Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reason #2: Trump’s psyche & “the scoundrels script” (3rd of 4 posts)

As noted a couple posts ago, Trump relies heavily on what I’ve termed “the scoundrel’s script”. His surrogates are adept at it as well. Heavy usage of this script is another worrisome sign about Trump’s psyche.

The “script” is from a slippery storyline I noticed a decade ago that has become way too common for society’s good. It’s about people who do something they want to keep private and hidden, esp. if they know it is wrong. They get away with it for a while, but then are found out. As they feel the brunt of unwelcome questioning if not outright blame, they slide into a standard three-act script to deceive and disorient their accusers.
  • Act one is to deny and dismiss wrong-doing: “The accusations are false … nothing of the sort happened … there’s no evidence … my record is clean … I gave no such orders … trust me … show respect.”
  • If denial fails and evidence mounts, act two is to diminish the taint: “It was just a one-time mistake … a few bad apples … we thought we read the rules right … we were given bad information … I didn’t know until later … our system works fine; it’s not to blame … we fixed the problem … the media exaggerate … those are not the facts … that’s not what happened … I wasn’t my true self … I didn’t mean it.”
  • If that still fails to work and evidence and pressure keep growing, act three is to deflect and displace the blame: “Who are you to judge me … their hands are dirtier … they’ve done far worse … they provoked it … they gave us bad info … there’s a conspiracy … we were being threatened … look at what they’re doing … everybody’s been doing it ... I’m being victimized … they’re to blame.”
Not all wrong-doers or shadow-seekers enact the entire script. People who have a sound conscience and a positive sense of strategy — that is, they’re not total scoundrels — may own up and accept responsibility during step one. Others, if fully exposed while dissembling in step two, may fold quietly rather than move into step three. Yet, moving into step three is common for individuals and organizations that are determined to resist getting caught.

This deny-diminish-deflect pattern is all too human. It arises in the maneuvers of respectable folks as well as rogues. And, sadly, it can be found all over the place these days — in politics, business, entertainment, religion, etc. (e.g., the Clinton email fiasco).

Americans are rarely surprised to see the scoundrel’s script unfold in news from other nations. But it’s awfully prevalent here now too. A major episode at a time once seemed the norm (e.g., Nixon reacting to Watergate). But lately it is not unusual for multiple instances to fill the media, simultaneously involving figures from Wall Street, Washington, and elsewhere.

Must I name names? I suppose we each have our own lists of favorite examples. (Frankly, I’ve forgotten many names on my own list by now.)

This adds to signs that American society is corroding. American-style capitalism, democracy, and culture already look increasingly dysfunctional. The rising incidence of the scoundrel’s script only makes matters look worse — it’s become as American as apple pie, amplified by new media that are suckers for whoever uses this script adroitly.

I have lost track of all the instances and issues where Trump and his surrogates have resorted to this script. But to my knowledge, they have deployed it more than anyone — and this seems likely to continue after he is sworn in. The issues I recall right now include aspects of his tax records and business practices, shifts in his policy opinions over time, and his ways of using Trump University and Trump Foundation, not to mention sexual antics. I’m sure more could be added to this tentative listing.

By itself, Trump’s frequent usage of the scoundrel’s script may not be a big deal. What makes it seem more significant to me is it’s relationship to the other two reasons I posit in this series of posts for worrying about his psyche. I’d hypothesize that the script is particularly likely to emanate from leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex (reason #1) and who are prone to tribalism (reason #3). Usage of the script can reinforce and be reinforced by those other two dynamics.

Source: Blog post titled “The scoundrel’s script: deny, diminish, displace” (2008).


Further comment: The scoundrel’s script is not the only script being deployed by Trump and his surrogates (or by others). But it is the one script that has come to my attention because of my work on TIMN and STA:C.

My sense is that reversions to the tribal form — tribalism and tribalization, especially when voiced in the media — increase people’s use of the scoundrel’s script. It’s a way to manipulate people’s space-time-agency perceptions. Reversions to the tribal form may also increase the appeal of hubris and nemesis scripts.

The information technology revolution may account for some of this, for it provides both scoundrels and their detectors with new opportunities and capabilities. The new technologies — e.g., new record-keeping and information-sharing devices, huge computerized databanks, various types of surveillance and monitoring systems, plus email systems, blogs, websites, and online chat rooms that enable multiple isolated victims to find each other faster and more effectively — make it more difficult for scoundrels to hide. The growing vigilance of investigative media and watchdog NGOs also make it likelier that scoundrels will eventually be exposed. But this won’t stop new ones from coming along. For these same technologies also enable scoundrels to fight back and reposition themselves.


Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 30, 2016.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Reason #1: Trump’s psyche & “the hubris-nemesis complex” (2nd of 4 posts)

Trump’s psyche exhibits a “hubris-nemesis complex”. Analysts often note that his personality is riddled with narcissism. What I call the “hubris-nemesis complex” (1994) is a dire form of this, a step beyond ordinary narcissism.

The hubris-nemesis complex reflects an ancient dynamic in Greek mythology. Accordingly, hubris is man’s vainglorious pretension to be god-like, the capital sin of arrogant overweening pride. Nemesis is the goddess of divine vengeance and retribution; she strikes down people who display hubris. That is the classic dynamic. The myth of Narcissus illustrates it. So does the Christian saying “Pride goeth before a fall”. Likewise, the fates of President Nixon and later the Shah of Iran.

Normally, the two forces — hubris and nemesis — function apart. However, rare leaders sometimes arise who embody both forces — they have enormous hubris, and also want to be the Nemesis of an external force they accuse of greater hubris. That is, they have a hubris-nemesis complex. Modern exemplars include Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab (also, maybe some self-exalting hypercritical talk-show hosts?)

In such leaders, the complex means more than exhibiting hubris and nemesis as separate qualities. The integration of the two forces and their interaction appears to result in something more complex, more pathological, than the description of either force alone may imply at first glance. For, to be as powerful as their hubris requires, such leaders must act as the nemesis of an outside power; indeed, it is part of their hubris to be a nemesis. At the same time, to fulfill the nemesis role against such a power, they yearn for expanded if not absolute power for themselves at home and abroad — they want the capability to impose their hubris.

In the classic dynamic, then, the two forces stand apart, opposing and contradicting each other. In this extraordinary dynamic, the two forces no longer stand apart. They get fused in a single psyche. They become compatible contradictions — mutually reinforcing each other in a fusion that, far from destroying the bearer, imparts enormous invigorating energy, ambition, dynamism, and charisma, along with a thirst for absolute power. The two forces feed on each other such that the stronger one is, the stronger the other may become as well.

The mentality and behavior of a leader under the spell of both forces will be substantially different from those of a leader affected by only one or neither of the two forces. A hubris-nemesis complex seems to impart a rationality that differs from a conventional cost-benefit rationality. A leader inflated with that much grandiosity and vengefulness tends to believe that he or she is above the law. They may not make what are normally regarded as reasonable pragmatic calculations of interests, goals, benefits, costs, and risks. They prefer unbounded space-time-agency perspectives.

From what I’ve seen and learned, Trump has regularly shown signs of hubris and of wanting to play nemesis against one actor or another (e.g., the Establishment, Washington, the Media, whatever is “rigged” — not to mention specific individuals). He repeatedly displays the tremendous energy, ambition, arrogance, charisma, and even demagoguery that attends this self-exalting complex. And he repeatedly displays a vengeful desire to confront, humiliate, punish, and defeat whomever he deems an adversary guilty of hubris (even just a questioning critic).

In sum, I worry that he has a hubris-nemesis complex that is going to prove troublesome. The American political system, with its checks and balances etc., is designed in ways that should temper and contain leaders who have an excess of hubris or nemesis or both. Other aspects of Trump’s psyche, as well his family dynamics, may also help temper and contain his hubris-nemesis impulses. But I still see reasons to continue wondering and worrying.

Sources: Monograph titled Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis (1994), plus a blog post on “Space-time-action orientations of leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex” (2014).


Speculative aside: To the standard explanations for Trump’s appeal, I have wondered about adding an aspect of Hollywood. Its movie and TV industries are often said to be rife with liberals who exert liberal influences on our culture, to the chagrin of conservatives. But what about the following?

Over the past decade or so, there has been a vast increase in movies and TV shows that revolve around super, magical, extraordinary, and special powers — indeed, around scripts and roles filled with hubris and nemesis dynamics. Some of these shows are fun entertainment. But there is so much of this now, it may not only reflect something amiss in our society but also be serving to tilt people in less rational directions, away from preferences for ordinary narratives and explanations.

Trump, more than any candidate, was able to present himself like a superhero who has special powers. Meanwhile, Clinton and other candidates continued to talk in terms of large mundane factors and forces — an ordinary way of thinking out of step with how aggrieved populists may now be inclined to think. My guess is that, if you asked people to list favorite kinds of movies and TV shows, Trump voters would prefer the kinds noted above, Clinton voters much less so.

If so, this would amount to quite a shift in how Hollywood may be said to influence our society.


Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 28, 2016.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Three reasons to wonder and worry about Trump's psyche: the hubris-nemesis complex, the scoundrel’s script, and the tribalization of America (1st of 4 posts)

Overview and implications

As I’ve wondered (and been asked) what to make of Donald Trump’s ascension, I’ve noticed much to worry about: not just in his emerging policy positions — some may yet turn out okay — but mainly because of his unusually aggressive psyche. My work on social evolution (TIMN) and cognition (STA:C) indicates three reasons to worry about his psyche as he ascends into having more power than ever:
  1. It looks like he has a “hubris-nemesis complex” — a rare mentality whereby a leader not only has hubris (the pretension to be god-like) but also wants to play Nemesis (the goddess of divine vengeance) against another actor who is accused of greater hubris.
  2. He is very adept at deploying “the scoundrel’s script” — a rhetorical strategy for first denying, then diminishing, and if that doesn't work, ultimately displacing blame for alleged misdeeds or shortcomings that have come to light.
  3. He is prone to behave like a tribalist intent on tribalizing others — look at his rallies where he rails like a tribal chieftain or warlord — in a time when America is already turning evermore tribal to it's detriment.
I'll clarify each point in three separate follow-up posts. But first, a few overview remarks.

Of the three points, Trump is far from unique in deploying the scoundrel's script. Many other political, business, and social leaders have relied on it too. But his usage seems awfully skilled and determined. On the other two counts, he is quite unique: his penchant for tribalism is unusually high among political leaders, and his self-exalting hubris-nemesis complex is terribly distinctive.

This is a potentially dangerous risky combination. To the extent that these three patterns matter, we may have to be wary of a future fraught with political flimflam, economic skim-scam, and strategic whim-wham — a future more about theater than truth. This combination may also make our society even more vulnerable to corruption and cronyism, and to stepped-up efforts at surveillance and censorship. A kind of information-age fascism seems increasingly likely, as I've long worried (even as I know that word "fascism" may not be quite accurate). His psyche seems more conducive to patrimonial corporatism than to liberal democracy.

Many other observations — good, bad, and otherwise — can be and have been made about Trump's psyche. I am focusing on these three simply because they are the ones that emerge from my work on TIMN and STA:C. It remains to be seen how significant they will prove to be.


Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 26, 2016.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

People’s space-time-action orientations: How they’ve been studied. How they should be studied.

Note to readers interested in STA:C : I regard this post as one of my most important efforts to explain and elaborate STA:C — this time by casting a net over all my reviews these past few years about writings by Henri Lefebvre (on space), Peter Zimbardo & John Boyd (on time), and Albert Bandura (on agency). I hope the post helps…

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Slide 1: This briefing-style post offers a way to depict a prospective theoretical framework (currently acronymed STA:C) about people’s space-time-action orientations and their roles in cognition and culture. The post shows how several renowned experts have already gone about analyzing people’s space, time, and/or action orientations. It then claims that STA:C could do better.

Hopefully, my depiction can serve as an evolving visual aid for conveying STA:C at a glance. The genesis of my depiction dates from a briefing I began drafting in 2009, but never finished. I offered a preliminary incomplete version of this post two years ago — “A sketchy depiction of space-time-action analysis (STA) in seven slides” (2014). Today’s post supersedes that earlier effort. [Click on a slide to enlarge the view.]

My slides and write-up presume a passing familiarity with the STA:C framework. Otherwise, read a background story (here) and a preliminary overview (here).

Slide 2: The idea that space, time, and action orientations — all three combined — are fundamental elements of cognition and culture struck me in 1966 or 1967, a time when there was plenty of literature about each orientation by itself, but not as a triplex. Since then, I’ve dithered at focusing on the idea. But what I’ve read over the years indicates that no one has yet approached people’s space, time, and/or action orientations as a triplex.

Many (most?) discussions I’ve seen are reflected in the diagram on the left, where space and time perceptions — or just one or the other alone — are discussed for their effects on people’s activities, or action, broadly defined to cover all sorts of thinking and doing. However, though not entirely wrong, that kind of approach is self-limited and ultimately misleads, for it makes action (or agency) too much of a dependent variable.

Occasionally I’d come across a different approach, not depicted on this slide, that focuses on people’s beliefs about action or agency — their sense of having an ability to change matters around them through their own efforts. Ages ago, people were sure that supernatural forces determined one’s fate. The idea did not really develop until the Middle Ages (or later?) that one could control one’s destiny through one’s own capacity for action. Histories of the idea of “progress” were where I’d usually (but not always) come across approaches that treated action orientations as the key independent variable or cause.

Wherever I looked, with few exceptions, people’s space, time, or action perspectives were studied pretty much in singular fashion, with one or the other of the three emphasized in a study, and the others brought in almost tangentially, sometimes as additional independent variables, sometimes more as effects than causes. So I have remained resolute that my initial idea was/is still fairly original and worth pursuing.

The depiction on the right shows roughly what STA:C looks like to me. All three cognitive domains — space, time, and action — are treated as independent but interactive variables, roughly equal in importance, with overlaps. It’s basically a Venn diagram. It makes “thinking and doing” the dependent variable. I propose that it is a more accurate and productive way to depict and assess these cardinal elements of consciousness, cognition, and culture. This kind of diagram also offers a basis for comparative analyses, as in the subsequent slides.

Slide 3: I’ve been unable to do original research from scratch to verify and advance STA:C. As a partial substitute, it occurred to me that what I could do is review experts on each of the three cognitive elements — space, time, and action — in order to see, and show, whether they eventually had to recognize all three to some degree, as STA:C implies should be the case.

So I chose to read Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974), Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Paradox of Time (2008), and Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997). Each writing is renowned in its field. And I reviewed each in earlier posts here (but Bandura’s book was so long, I used his article “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2006) instead).

My goal was to ascertain whether, and how much, these experts on individual STA:C elements ultimately attended to all three. STA:C argues that such experts should, indeed must attend to all three. But do they? To what extent? In what terms? And do such comparisons help validate STA:C?

This post conveys what I found. All diagrams are preliminary and impressionistic on my part. Your view may differ — in which case, draw your own version, and/or suggest that I redraw.

In my depictions, circle sizes — from large to small — represent the relative importance given to each STA:C element. Circle locations — overlaps, separations — indicate the degree of their interactions, according to the author(s). Circle line densities — from solid and thick, to dotted and thin — indicate my sense of the relative conceptual clarity of each STA:C element. (This approach to depiction improves, I hope, on my 2014 effort, which just used circle sizes and overlaps to represent each expert’s emphasis.)

Diagraming with these 2-D circles must suffice for now. But, for a future iteration, 3-D shapes might convey even better that the three STA:C elements work together rather like a molecular bundle. Perhaps “word clouds” could also be inserted to indicate content.

Slide 4: French philosopher/sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974 [translation, 1991]) remains a landmark text among postmodern, mostly Marxist theorists who are caught up in the “spatial turn” in sociology that began a few decades ago.

Lefebvre proposed that space is a cardinal mental and social concept that merits far more attention from theorists and strategists. Accordingly, “the production of space” — all kinds of spaces, by all kinds of actors, even by isms — has become a paramount activity in advanced societies. Producing spaces is now a more defining activity of capitalism than producing commodities. Thus he not only advocates space as a grand analytical concept; he forecasts that societies are moving into an era when producing and controlling space is a key strategic purpose. (Source: three blog posts, beginning here)

While he does not offer a typology, he identifies innumerable categories and distinctions about physical, mental, and social spaces. Accordingly, “social space” first took form ages ago as a mostly “natural space”; then as modern forces took hold, it evolved into “absolute space” and “abstract space”. What’s important analytically is to figure out how to “decode” space and identify “spatial codes” that powerful actors use. In particular, he observes, “The ideologically dominant tendency divides space up into parts and parcels” — it works to separate all sorts of spaces from each other (e.g., public and private) and treat each as a “passive receptacle”.

While Lefebvre focuses on space, he devotes great attention to time as well. Indeed, he views time as a co-equal concept in terms of nature, physics, and philosophy. But much as he would like for space and time to operate in “unity” in the social world, he finds that one or the other has tended to prevail in different historical periods. In the current period, he argues, time has been “confined” and “murdered” by the modern state and capitalism — hence the growing significance of space, especially “abstract space”.

Lefebvre doesn’t write explicitly about the action element, but his treatment of “strategy” is somewhat cognate. In places, his treatment seems to be about people having an independent capacity for agency; but in other places, his treatment seems to treat strategy as a dependent implication of his space-time analysis. His forecast that societies are moving into an era when producing and controlling space is a key strategic purpose presumes, I would say, an action perspective, as does his view that the powers-that-be operate to split spaces up into parts and pieces they can dominate. But he also pushes two strategy points that read like dependent implications about what people should do: reunite disassociated spaces and generate bottom-up pluralism, including to create local self-managed autonomous zones outside the control of the state and its attendant networks

Hence, in my depiction of Lefebvre, the largest circle is about space. Time merits a large circle too. And the space and time circles deserve a strong overlap. His treatment of action in terms of “strategy” figures less in comparison, and less clearly — so I’ve rendered it with a small circle, sketchy line density, and little overlap.

Slide 5: This slide depicts what I conclude from reading psychologists Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life (2008) — a significant psychological study in the guise of a self-help therapy book.

The largest circle by far goes to time, for, in their view, “time perspective” is “one of the most powerful influences on human thought, feeling, and action”. At the core of their study is a typology that identifies “six time perspectives: two past, two present, and two future” that are “the six most common time perspectives in the Western world”. These six are: past-negative; past-positive, present-fatalistic, present-hedonistic, future, and transcendental-future — lately modified to distinguish between future-positive and future-negative. This typology organizes their analysis about the significance of people’s time perspectives for their individual lives and for societies as a whole. (Source: four posts, beginning here)

As for action, Zimbardo & Boyd recognize the importance of “control” and “efficacy”. But their discussion tends to suborn and embed “control” within their treatment of time. Thus, in my depiction, action merits a medium-size circle, with a sketchy line density, that ends up almost entirely engulfed within the time circle.

There is no discussion of space as a distinct perceptual domain — only scattered disparate references to various spatial elements (e.g., one’s perceptions about self-worth, family, and government). Hence, I’ve drawn the space circle quite small, with the sketchiest line density, and placed it almost entirely outside (though maybe it too belongs inside) the time circle..

Their approach and its limitations is most evident when they try to explain why somebody may become a terrorist. The authors emphasize having “a “transcendental-future time perspective” as a condition. And they propose that U.S. policy and strategy should deal with this and other matters by focusing on changing people’s time perspectives. It’s a useful notion, but makes limited sense, for they play down crucial space and agency perceptions that are embedded in their write-up — reflecting the slide here.

Slide 6: For psychologist Alberto Bandura, agency — the ability “to influence intentionally one’s functioning and life circumstances” — is important because “malleability and agentic capability are the hallmark of human nature.” Developing an “agentic self” is one of life’s most meaningful endeavors, for it means a person “can generate a wider array of options”. Personal efficacy beliefs are the “foundation of human agency”.

His article “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2006) analyzes psychological agency and efficacy in ways that match what I think action means in the STA:C framework. Thus, in my depiction, action receives the largest, boldest circle. Since he and other experts in his field prefer the terms agency and efficacy, maybe I should do so too. But for now I am sticking with action as the A in STA:C. Readers who prefer agency to action should just go ahead and do so. (Source: two posts, beginning here — they explain why I used his 2006 article instead of his renowned book Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997))

Bandura does not name time as a factor that affects or otherwise accompanies agency and efficacy. But his analysis does identify the importance of “forethought” and other aspects of people’s future orientations — e.g., anticipation, expectation, optimism, pessimism. So my depiction renders time as a medium-sized circle, not so clearly defined, but having a strong interaction with the action element. To my puzzlement, he views forethought as “the temporal extension of agency” — thus suborning time to action, rather than treating time as a separate cognitive domain.

Bandura affords space no explicit theoretical attention. But spatial qualities do appear, at least implicitly, in what he writes about the formation of individual identities and the perception of other actors in one’s environment. Indeed, spatial cognitions lie behind the “three modes of agency” he identifies: personal, proxy, and collective agency. From a STA:C standpoint, these modes are more spatial than agentic in nature, for they presume that one’s environment — or space — contains other actors who can connect to each other. So, space receives the smallest, vaguest circle in my depiction.

Finally, like Lefebvre and Zimbardo & Boyd, Bandura draws some implications for policy and strategy. As a result of the information revolution, other technological advances, and economic globalization, he sees that agency is being amplified in all sorts of ways, for beneficial as well as hazardous purposes around the world. And he warns that “Through collective practices driven by a foreshortened perspective, humans may be well on the road to outsmarting themselves into irreversible ecological crises”.

Note that this quote contains both time and action elements. I’d say that’s another plus for STA:C. I’d also note that while Bandura emphasizes the many ways whereby people’s agency is being amplified nowadays, it is also evident — just look at recent shifts in popular opinion in the United States and Europe regarding one newsworthy matter or another — that many people today also feel that globalization has deprived them of agency.

Slide 7: My three reviews here are less about the writings themselves than about a purpose that serves STA:C: to show that each expert writing, besides dwelling on its singular focus — space, time, or action — eventually turns to use and say something about all three. Indeed, there is no way for major writings to avoid doing so. The unrecognized reason for this is that these specialists are actually studying a systematic mental and cultural triplex that consist of all three orientations — but they’re doing it narrowly and unknowingly from their singular angle.

Inspection of such writings helps confirm that people’s space-time-action orientations function as a bundle, like a module — a set of inter-laced cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind or culture can do without, and which shape the distinctive nature of that mind or culture. The more we learn about analyzing people’s space-time-action orientations, the more we shall realize that all three orientations are so thoroughly interlaced in our minds and cultures that they form an essential cognitive “module”. And if I’m right about that, then the unfolding of that realization will matter not only across academic disciplines, but also to real-world analysts and strategists of all stripes. Figure out people’s space-time-action orientations as a three-fold bundle and you can assess how people think and act better than ever before.

But, assuming I am right about all this, getting there won’t be easy. I gather that specialized academic fields tend to resist change. Besides, it would take a lot of effort to “prove” that space-time-action orientations exist and function in combination, as a triad, and that the three orientations should be studied as such rather than singularly — in other words, that something like STA:C is for-real.

BTW, I sometimes refer to space-time-action orientations as a “module” — that’s how I depict them here. But I don’t mean this literally. Patricia Churchland explains better than I can when she goes so far as to propose that the term “module” should be retired from neuroscience:
“The concept of ‘module’ in neuroscience (meaning sufficient for a function, given gas-in-the-tank background conditions) invariably causes more confusion than clarity. The problem is that any neuronal business of any significant complexity is underpinned by spatially distributed networks, and not just incidentally but essentially — and not just cortically, but between cortical and subcortical networks.” (source)
Until a better term comes along, I’m going to keep referring to a “module”. But I mean it more metaphorically than literally. There is no specific pop-in pop-out module for a mind’s (or a culture’s) space-time-action cognitions. But something distributed yet integrated is going on, and I wish I knew a good conceptual term for it. Maybe “nexus”?

Slide 8: This slide recapitulates my sense of what STA:C analysis looks like, ideally. All three cognitive domains — space, time, action — are clearly recognized and weighted equally, as are their overlaps (i.e., fusions, interactions). What may be a cogni-cultural “sweet spot” lies at the core. I’ve added a feedback arrow to indicate that reciprocal adjustments and adaptations are bound to occur as an actor applies his or her cognitions to real-world thinking and doing, presumably.

This depiction is about what an idealized STA:C analysis would look like, inquiring into all areas equally and comprehensively. The depiction represents what an actual mind (or culture) should look like, at its best: developed, balanced, knowledgeable, and attentive in all three cognitive domains.

Of course, in reality, many minds and cultures may not conform fully to this ideal. They may be more emphatic and defined in one area, less so in another. If so, the diagram would have to be adjusted to display that particular mind or culture. Moreover, the diagram implies that there is full of content, but the diagram itself is devoid of specific content. That would have to be identified, and a display methodology determined, for the kind of person or culture being studied. I doubt there is an ideal content for each cognitive domain; instead, what may be “ideal” is that it vary somewhat from individual to individual and from culture to culture (in accordance with Darwinian principles?). For example, as noted in other posts here, there is a large scholarly literature about differences between Western and Asian modes of perception, and much of it comes down to differences in space, time, and action perspectives. Which I’d say further confirms that STA:C offers a sound way to approach comparisons.

Slide 9: As a result of the above (plus other considerations not covered here), I’d hypothesize that space, time, and action (or agency) are people’s cardinal or prime social cognitions. They emerge and develop during childhood and are sine qua non for the rest of a life — as a triad. Related to this, each culture around the world develops its own distinctive nature in large part because of the dispositions it instills about social space, social time, and social action. STA:C — or whatever the framework for cognitive cultural theory — would benefit if this hypothesis were recognized and verified.

There is plenty of literature about the importance of each of the three cognitive domains. But from what I’ve seen so far, there is no literature that the three combined are as important, encompassing, and cardinal as I am hypothesizing. I cannot do much more than offer the hypothesis, but I’d also offer a little more insistence, as follows: Space, time, and action may be the cardinal cognitions, much as red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors, and space, time, and energy (or something akin) are the fundaments of physics. Isaac Newton posited that physics rested on observations about space, time, and momentum. Emmanuel Kant posited that the mind rests on conceptions of space, time, and causality. Sheldon Wolin argued that political metaphysics rest on ideas about space, time, and energy in the form of power. STA:C is an extension of all this.

Claims that space and time orientations are important as a pair is a common sight in the social sciences, partly borrowed from the physical sciences. Yet, consider this: without the addition of the action-orientation component to the cognitive module, the object or subject would just sit there — inert — and his or her space-time orientations would mean nothing for cause or consequence. It may be a leap from showing that experts studying any one of the three cognitive-cultural elements inevitably recognizes all three, to showing that the three combined are the primary or cardinal cognitions and should be conceived and studied as such. But I am suggesting that it can and will be shown, even if I am not the one to do it.

If space, time, and action are not sufficient as the prime cognitions, I keep wondering and looking for what else there may be that is prime — what I may be missing. So far, I don’t see what else. For example, some studies treat cognition of “the self” as a crucial cognition. But then the ensuing discussion is about the self as an entity that senses differentiation from and connection to others — which is a spatial orientation. Or that one’s sense of self is expressed through expectations and aspirations — a time orientation. Or that the self evolves as one learns to use tools and see cause-effect relations — an action or agency orientation. In other words, the ensuing discussion is about the self as some kind of bundle of space-time-action orientations. I take this to mean that “the self” is not a separate cognition — it fits fine under or into STA:C’s triad.

Of course, there are many other kinds of cognitions that don’t fit with STA:C — e.g., cognition of “beauty”. But I don’t see that as a problem that invalidates STA:C.

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I’m out of steam on this post. But at least I got this far. It’s a good-enough ending point for now, since what I’ve managed to finish above expresses most of my key points for this post. So I’m placing the remaining three slides in the Appendix below. They still lack text, but they are fairly self-explanatory anyway. I shall hope to add their texts someday. But right now I should move on to other matters.

(I have deleted my July 30 initial partial post and its incremental updates on this topic. This August 4 post replaces that one. My apologies to its few readers for my odd method, which seemed reasonable at the time.)

* * * * *

Appendix:  Slides 10, 11, and 12

* * * * *

Addendum: Scholarly quotes about the importance of people’s STA orientations

[My 2014 precursor post included this Addendum. I’m leaving it in this 2016 post, verbatim. At the time, the acronym was STA; now it's the more pronounceable STA:C.]

While I was refining the foregoing slides and text, I noticed various scholarly quotes I’d kept for old drafts about STA. These quotes might clutter the trim briefing-style post above. But they speak pointedly to the ideas behind STA. And they may help convey and clarify STA for some readers. So I’m providing a selection here, eleven in number. I’ve used a few in prior posts, but they’re worth repeating.

On space: These two quotes — the first from Michel Foucault, the next from Manuel Castells — speak to the importance of space orientations.
• “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. … when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersections with its own skein.” (From Michel Foucault, “Of Other Space,” in Diacritics, Spring 1986, p. 24)
• “I shall then synthesize the observed tendencies under a new spatial logic that I label space of flows. I shall oppose to such logic the historically rooted spatial organization of our common experience: the space of places.” (From Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 1996, p. 378)

On time: Here are three quotes about the significance of time orientations — one each from Karl Mannheim, Florence Kluckhon, and Fred Polak. The statements by Kluckhon and Polak represent the kind of background that I’d wish Zimbardo & Boyd’s book had included.
• “[T]he innermost structure of the mentality of a group can never be as clearly grasped as when we attempt to understand its conception of time in the light of its hopes, yearning, and purposes. On the basis of these purposes and expectations, a given mentality orders not merely future events, but also the past.” (From Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, 1936, p. 209)
• “Obviously all societies at all times must cope with all three time problems; all must have their conceptions of the Past, the Present, and the Future. Where societies differ is in the rank-order emphasis they give to each, and a very great deal can be told about the particular society being studied, much about the direction of change within it can be predicted, if one knows what that rank order is. Spengler, greatly impressed by the significance of the time orientation, made this statement in his Decline of the West: ‘It is by the meaning that it intuitively attaches to time that one culture is differentiated from another.’” (From Florence Kluckhohn, “Some Reflections on the nature of cultural integration and change,” in Tiryakian, ed., 1963, p. 224)
• “[Man's] image of the future is his propelling power. … [T]he rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.” (From Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, [1955] 1973, p. 5, 19)

On action: That man has power to affect things, that progress is feasible, that social action can work — that human agency and efficacy matter — is a separate belief, not derived from space-time beliefs. This point shines in the following two quotes — one from Leonard Doob, the other from Alberto Bandura:
• “Basic to all such thinking …. must also be the belief that men themselves — not their ancestors, not fate, not nature, not other men — are able to control their own destinies. … for men everywhere are not likely to seek change unless they believe that change is possible.” (From Leonard Doob, Becoming More Civilized, 1960, p. ??)
• “This change in human self-conception and the view of life from supernatural control to personal control ushered in a major shift in causal thinking, and the new enlightenment rapidly expanded the exercise of human power over more and more domains.” (From Alberto Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1997, p. 1)

On space and time together: Of the three STA orientations, space and time are the two that usually get combined and discussed together. The following quotes — one from Lewis Mumford, the next from Daniel Boorstin — illustrate this:
• “[N]o two cultures live conceptually in the same kind of time and space. … [E]ach culture believes that every other kind of space and time is an approximation to or perversion of the real space and time in which it lives.” (Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1932, p. 18)
• “[T]he compass provided a worldwide absolute for space comparable to that which the mechanical clock and the uniform hour provided for time. … When you moved any great distance from your home out into the uncharted great oceans, you could not know precisely where you were unless you had a way of finding precisely when you were.” (From Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers, 1983, pp. 219-220)

On space, time, and action as a set: Finally, as intimations of STA, here are revelatory quotes — one from Sheldon Wolin, the next from Bruno Latour — that urge treating space-time-action as a triad.
• “Every political theory that has aimed at a measure of comprehensiveness has adopted some implicit or explicit proposition about “time,” “space,” “reality,” or “energy.” Although most of these are the traditional categories of metaphysicians, the political theorist does not state his propositions or formulate his concepts in the same manner as a metaphysician. … Rather, the political theorist has used synonyms; instead of political space he may have written about the city, the state, or the nation; instead of time, he may have referred to history or tradition; instead of energy, he may have spoken about power. The complex of these categories we can call a political metaphysic.” (From Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision, 1960, pp. 15-16)
• “Fourth, to talk like the semioticians, there is always simultaneously at work in each account, a shift in space, a shift in time, and a shift in actor or actant, the last of these always forgotten in philosophical or psychological discussions. … We should not speak of time, space, and actant but rather of temporalization, spatialization, actantialization (the words are horrible) or, more elegantly of timing, spacing, acting.” (From Bruno Latour, “Trains of Thought: Piaget, Formalism, and The Fifth Dimension,” in Common Knowledge, Winter 1997, pp. 178–9)

Bruno Latour!? I normally find his writing incomprehensible. Evidently I must reconsider.


UPDATE — August 11, 2016: I edited text for Slide 7, in order to eliminate remarks that may seem snippy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The NRA in light of STA:C and TIMN (Part 1 of 2)

These past few months, as I worked episodically on STA:C and TIMN and meanwhile watched all sorts of news about all sorts of issues, I’ve ended up with two sideline speculations about the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its policy positions:
• My work on people’s space-time-action orientations and their import for cognition and culture (STA:C) indicates that conservatives think largely in terms of boundaries, far more so than progressives (they think more in terms of horizons). The NRA and its Republican cohorts claim to be highly conservative. But their views about guns are so lacking in boundaries as to mean they are not truly conservative — instead, they seem virtually libertine.
• My work on social evolution and how societies use four cardinal forms of organization — tribes + institutions + markets + networks (TIMN) — implies that phase transitions are accompanied by the growth of what Jane Jacobs called “monstrous moral hybrids”. The NRA looks like that kind of a hybrid, for it embodies a fusion of tribal, institutional, market, and network dynamics. As such a hybrid, it both heralds and hampers progress toward the next phase of social evolution — the +N phase — whose outcomes will determine whether America continues to be a preeminent society.
I have no particular interest in the NRA. I’m fine with the Second Amendment and with owning some guns. I’m not steeped in gun policy matters, pro or con. I have no policy recommendations to push. And I’d be wiser to stay focused on other matters about STA:C and TIMN. But once I got steamed up and started making notes about those two speculations, I figured I might as well do this blog post, now so lengthy that I’m breaking it into two parts

The NRA in light of STA:C — ideologically more libertine than conservative?

As explained elsewhere at this blog, STA:C is about the importance of people’s space-time-action orientations and their significance for cognition and culture. One matter I’ve wondered about is whether STA:C analysis can serve to illuminate differences between conservative and liberal / progressive ways of thinking. What I’ve tentatively concluded, as I wrote last year (here), is that sensitivities about boundaries — about identifying, respecting, and protecting boundaries — characterize conservative more than progressive thinking. Conservatism seems fundamentally concerned with boundaries, while liberalism and progressivism seem oriented more toward horizons. If a policy or principle is not based on some sense of boundaries, it is questionably conservative.

And this goes also for spatial concepts related to boundaries — e.g., bounds, borders, divides, separations, walls, fences, limits, lines, frontiers, barriers, bulwarks, etc. Conservatives keep referring to sensitivities in terms of such cognates, more than do liberals or progressives.

Thus it has long been a sign of traditional conservatism to tell someone they should not marry (nor even make friends) outside their clan, tribe, race, nationality, religion, or culture, not to mention gender. Today as well, conservatives often seem intent on marking the differences between sexes, races, religions, nations, etc. And these sensitivities extend to jurisdictional and sectoral differences — boundaries between church and state, government and market, public and private, foreign and domestic, legal and illegal. Other boundaries that often figure in conservative discourse include those between life and death, war and peace, winning and losing — and of course, boundaries between liberal and conservative. Conservatives often seem uncomfortable with whatever redefines, blurs, transgresses, or removes boundaries.

It’s easy to spot recent instances: Conservative Republicans criticizing President Obama for drawing a “red line” regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons, then not enforcing it. Social conservatives upset about same-sex marriage. Conservative politicians advocating a wall to halt immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Exclusionary conservatives who want to limit who can vote in popular elections. Self-styled “warriors” who claim that conservatives are for individualism, progressives for collectivism — as though such a dichotomized difference really exists (it doesn’t). Plus, as always, conservatives who warn about government exceeding its boundaries. And there are surely myriad more examples.

There are only a few issue areas where Republican conservatives favor largely unbounded policies. Guns is one such area, perhaps the major one. Here, their alignment with the NRA’s policies and positions is said to express conservatism. Yet, from what I’ve seen, the NRA and its fans have little sense of boundaries regarding gun production, technology, marketing, and ownership. They evidently believe that the more guns and the fewer the boundaries, the better for themselves and for American society and culture.

Thus, if I look at the cognitive underpinnings from a STA:C perspective, the NRA’s positions are so unbounded that they contradict true conservatism.

The only boundaries I’ve spotted where the NRA has taken the initiative are the following two from some years ago: legislation to block government funding for research on gun violence; and measures to oppose “smart guns”. But these two putative “boundaries” seem more like counter-boundaries — for they seem designed to keep gun-matters unfettered for existing American gun manufacturers and owners, as well as to deter possible slippages toward gun controls.

Otherwise, I see nothing but opposition to proposals for placing limits on one gun concern or another. Along with a marvelous array of rhetorical and analytical devices for obstructing, deflecting, and delaying gun-control efforts. The following pithy sayings, culled from my own readings and from a new book by Dennis Henigan (here and here), speak to the NRA’s adeptness at avoiding boundaries:
• “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
• “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”
• “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”
• “An armed society is a polite society”
• “Gun control is a slippery slope to confiscation”
• “If they can ban one, they can ban them all”
• “We don't need new gun laws, we just need to enforce the ones we have”
Such notions are accompanied by claims that gun controls could undo the Second Amendment and “take away our freedoms”, whereas more guns in more hands would improve deterrence, allegedly through a variant of the MAD (mutual assured destruction) of Cold War strategy. Plus I see endless “devils in the details” points that may shift focus away from guns and onto some other matter (e.g., mental health, due process).

I lack expertise on such matters and their historical background; but this looks to me like a litany of improbabilities that are not only highly improbable but also neglect collateral-damage possibilities. More to the point for this post, I find no evidence of a propensity for conservative boundaries amid all these rhetorical and analytical devices.

Sometimes the NRA’s narratives even seem in line with what I once analyzed (here) as “the scoundrel’s script” — rhetoric phased initially to deny, then to diminish, and finally to displace responsibility. Moreover, while the NRA is evidently skilled at realpolitik behind the scenes (e.g., via political campaign contributions), its public strategy seems like a wily exercise of noöspolitik — an info-age soft-power approach for determining “whose story wins” (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1999; Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 2007).

Meanwhile, I gather some NRA proponents argue that the NRA is more a libertarian than a conservative actor. Some libertarians in particular seem to believe this. But the NRA has not embraced this view. Besides, a thorough libertarian would surely favor letting people acquire “smart guns” if that’s what they wanted, and wouldn’t necessarily oppose research on gun-related violence.

From all this, it seems reasonable to conclude, from a STA:C standpoint, that the NRA and its cohorts are not so conservative as they claim. Nor are they liberal in an old-fashioned pro-freedoms sense. And they’re not thoroughly libertarian either. Instead, when it comes to guns, their positions verge on being libertine — not quite in a dictionary-definition way, but close enough. For the NRA and its Republican cohorts espouse a kind of boundless “free love” for guns that seems a functional equivalent of the libertine “free love” for groins that Hippies used to tout in the 1960s. All self-servingly in the name of individualism, freedom, self-expression, and tribal identity — yet so lacking in boundaries as to contradict traditional conservatism.

Meanwhile, the NRA and its Republican cohorts have generated a significant boundary that is in keeping with today’s conservatism: a tribal boundary. The NRA and its cohorts seem to have evolved collectively much like a tribal identity movement built around “identity politics”, in ways that work to keep allies in line and outsiders at bay. The tribal boundary is the most important boundary I can find involving the NRA and its conservative Republican cohorts. (Tribalism has been evident among Republicans for years, as I once tried to lay out here.)

And how does this manifest itself? Extreme tribalists divide the world between “us” and “them”. They stress group identity, loyalty, and solidarity — kinships, brotherhoods, sisterhoods. They constantly talk about honor, pride, dignity, and respect. They flash totems and slogans. They claim tradition and purity for their side. They vilify and demonize opponents. They believe it’s morally okay — maybe not politically-correct, but tribally-correct for sure — to lie to and about outsiders. They readily turn combative and uncompromising. They force people to take sides, to become tribal. They shun moderates once on their side. They engage in magical and conspiratorial thinking about their prospects. Et cetera. And of course they accuse the other side — in this case, gun-control advocates — of tribalism.

This overall pattern of thought and action is common wherever people become susceptible to an excessive malignant tribalism. And it looks to me that the NRA has become bound up in it, partly as a way to advance its own institutional interests, but also as a way to claim a mantle of conservatism that, according to my understanding of STA:C, is questionable, if not in error.

Again, I am fine with the Second Amendment and with owning some guns. It is also my view that a healthy conservatism is good and necessary. But when presumably-conservative policy positions become so lacking in boundaries, and so taken over by tribalists who aim to tribalize, then STA:C and TIMN imply something is amiss at both cognitive and philosophical levels.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Albert Bandura’s “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2nd of 2 or 3 posts) — its partial attention to space and time orientations confirms STA:C proposition

This post continues the analysis of Albert Bandura’s work on agency and efficacy that I began in Part 1 (here). See that post for background on why doing it should serve my effort to unfold a framework about people’s space-time-action orientations and their significance for cognition and culture — a nascent framework currently dubbed STA:C.

Part 1 explains why I use Bandura’s “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2006), rather than one of his renowned writings. Briefly, because it provides a recent summary overview; can be accessed digitally; and contains many key points that appear in his famed Self-Efficacy (1997) book and other overviews. Where handy, I supplement my effort with a few gleanings from his more-quoted writings. (Quotations and page numbers below are all from this 2006 paper, unless otherwise indicated.)

Remember, my goal here is not to survey Bandura’s work thoroughly, but only to verify that, when he goes about analyzing people’s agency (STA:C’s action) orientations, he includes a lot about people’s space and time orientations as well. This is the same kind of goal that I applied in my earlier analyses of writings by experts on space (Lefebvre) and time (Zimbardo & Boyd).

My proposition is that an expert writing about any one of the three STA:C orientations — time, space, or action — must turn to include all three to some degree. Thus my review is meant to help confirm, for STA:C’s sake, that people’s space-time-action orientations exist as a bundle — a triplex of interrelated cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind or culture can do without. Expert analyses would improve if they recognized this, rather than sticking to their traditional focus on just one (or maybe two) of the three, while suborning or neglecting the other(s).

As for Bandura, my Part-1 post showed that his concept of agency closely matches STA:C’s action component. This Part-2 post inquires into how well he covers people’s space and time orientations. I find that his analysis attends explicitly to selected aspects of time, mostly the future (e.g., forethought, future expectations), but not to time per se. He attends somewhat to spatial matters (e.g., people’s sense of identity, presence of others), but does so in a way that makes space per se only implicitly significant. This continues to confirm my proposition that an expert on any one of the three orientations — in this instance, Bandura on the action (agency) orientation — cannot avoid explicitly or implicitly including the other two in his or her analysis, to some degree.

I still have not enjoyed doing this post. But it’s completion is essential for my next post: an updated depiction of STA:C that draws on my reviews of Lefebvre, Zimbardo & Boyd, and now at last, Bandura. Onward we go.

Bandura’s attention to time orientations

Bandura offers no explicit systematic treatment of people’s time beliefs. But aspects receive constant attention, especially the future, showing up in points he makes about anticipations, aspirations, outcome expectations, optimism and pessimism — how people try to “achieve desired futures and avoid untoward ones”. The following two quotes speak to this:
“To make their way successfully through a complex world full of challenges and hazards, people have to make sound judgments about their capabilities, anticipate the probable effects of different events and courses of action, size up socio-structural opportunities and constraints, and regulate their behavior accordingly. These belief systems are a working model of the world that enables people to achieve desired futures and avoid untoward ones.” (168)
“Efficacy beliefs affect whether individuals think optimistically or pessimistically, in self-enhancing or self-debilitating ways. Such beliefs affect people’s goals and aspirations, how well they motivate themselves, and their perseverance in the face of difficulties and adversity. Efficacy beliefs also shape people’s outcome expectations — whether they expect their efforts to produce favorable outcomes or adverse ones. In addition, efficacy beliefs determine how opportunities and impediments are viewed. People of low efficacy are easily convinced of the futility of effort in the face of difficulties.” (170-171)
These valuable points trace back to passages in Bandura’s magisterial Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory (1986), if not also to his seminal paper, “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change” (1977). As supporting material for the above quotes, then, here are a two oft-cited quotes from the 1986 book that I plucked from an impressive online archive (here). In the first, I especially appreciate his point that efficacious people may “produce their own future”. In the second, I regard “outcome beliefs” as having a time-orientation component.
“People who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it.” (1986, p. 395)
“In any given instance, behavior can be predicted best by considering both self-efficacy and outcome beliefs ... different patterns of self-efficacy and outcome beliefs are likely to produce different psychological effects” (1986, p. 446).
Yet his points seem to be mainly about how agentic beliefs affect a person’s future outlook, more than vice-versa. I see few indications that Bandura regards time beliefs as a distinct cognitive domain that may be equal in coherence and significance to agentic beliefs.

The one time-oriented concept that receives systematic treatment is forethought. It shows up in Bandura’s list of the “four core properties of human agency”: i.e., intentionality, forethought, self-reactiveness, and self-reflectiveness. I detect time-orientation aspects in each, but forethought is particularly temporal in nature. And Bandura deems it crucial to people’s agency and efficacy orientations:
“The second property of human agency is forethought, which involves the temporal extension of agency. Forethought includes more than future-directed plans. People set themselves goals and anticipate likely outcomes of prospective actions to guide and motivate their efforts. A future cannot be a cause of current behavior because it has no material existence. But through cognitive representation, visualized futures are brought into the present as current guides and motivators of behavior. In this form of anticipatory self-guidance, behavior is governed by visualized goals and anticipated outcomes, rather than pulled by an unrealized future state. The ability to bring anticipated out-comes to bear on current activities promotes purposeful and foresightful behavior. (164)
Thus, there is enough about future orientations in Bandura’s analysis to confirm my STA:C proposition. But while selected aspects of time are significant, time per se does not receive systematic recognition as a distinct perceptual domain on a par with agency. Indeed, his key concept — forethought — is regarded as just “the temporal extension of agency”. Thus he suborns time to agency.

Bandura’s attention to space orientations

According to my reading of Bandura, space per se receives no explicit theoretical attention, not in the way STA:C means. But spatial qualities do appear, at least implicitly, in what he writes about the formation of individual selfhood, the perception of other actors in one’s environment, and the rise of the Internet and other advanced communications networks.

Indeed, the new global communications networks are the one regard where Bandura explicitly writes about space — though he says “place” rather than “space”:
“They transcend time, place, and distance, as they interact globally with the virtual environment of the cyberworld.” (173)
“People worldwide are becoming increasingly enmeshed in a cyberworld that transcends time, distance, place, and national borders.” (175)
“People can now transcend time, place, and national borders to make their voice heard on matters of personal interest and concern.” (177)
Thus he asserts (much like everybody else nowadays) that these new technologies expand people’s access to space and time and thereby increase people’s agency. Valid enough point. My point is simply that this is the only regard where he explicitly mentions space/place. But these passages about space do not seem crucial to his theory; they read more like commentary on current conditions. So I don’t regard them as providing much confirmation for my STA:C proposition that his theorizing about agency is bound to have spatial cognitions embedded in it.

The key place where spatial cognitions show up is in Bandura’s identification of “three modes of agency”: direct personal agency, proxy agency (exercised indirectly, often by somebody else), and collective agency (say, by a group) — with “everyday functioning” often requiring “an agentic blend of these three forms of agency” (165). As I noted in Part 1, this typology is sensible. Moreover, it reflects what Bandura calls “properties of the environments” (166), “in which people are each other’s environments” (165), subject to “triadic reciprocal causation” (see Part 1).

But from a STA:C standpoint, this typology’s underlying essence is not about agency. The three types are more spatial than agentic in nature, for they presume that one’s environment — one’s space — contains other actors, and that they may be able to connect to each other. Perhaps Bandura views that as yet another “extension of agency”. However, from a STA:C viewpoint, perceptions about the existence of one’s identity, the presence of other actors, their location and distribution, connections among them, etc., are mostly a structural spatial matter.

That, in my view, is the best confirmation I find for the space part of my STA:C proposition. In addition, spatial factors peek through, though less so, in his analysis of “the construction of selfhood” (170). Bandura rightly focuses on how childhood development concerns the creation of identity — self-identity, personal identity, social identity — and how this process involves “recognition of oneself as an agent” who “becomes differentiated from others” (169), resulting in “a distinct self capable of making things happen” (170). Then he elaborates as follows:
“As an agent, one creates identity connections over time … and construes oneself as a continuing person over different periods in one’s life. Through their goals, aspirations, social commitments, and action plans, people project themselves into the future and shape the courses their lives take. Personal identity is therefore rooted not only in phenomenological continuity, but also in agentic continuity.
“… Personal identity is partially constructed from one’s social identity as reflected in how one is treated by significant others. As the model of triadic reciprocal causation suggests, a sense of selfhood is the product of a complex interplay of personal construal processes and the social reality in which one lives.” (170)
Per STA:C, however, such passages about identity are loaded with spatial constructs — the words about individualism, selfhood, recognition, differentiation, connections, significant others. Not to mention the temporal references to aspirations, plans, and projection into the future. I’d say this further validates my STA:C proposition — space and time orientations are embedded in Bandura’s theorizing about agency, both explicitly and implicitly.

Closing comment

With that, I have accomplished my purpose for this post: I’ve shown that Bandura’s analysis of agency (i.e., STA:C’s action component) is bound up with explicit and implicit observations about space and time perspectives as well — as STA:C would expect. And I’ve elaborated on that so often throughout this post, that I shall hesitate to do so again here.

There is still lots of additional interesting material in Bandura’s 2006 paper, not to mention his other writings. Perhaps someday in a Part-3 post, or by adding an Addendum to this post, I can better show the fullness of his theorizing by relaying points I’ve set aside for the time being — points he makes about moral agency and personal responsibility, the value of self-directedness, the agentic management of fortuity, the ways agency is being amplified for beneficial as well as hazardous purposes around the world, the exercise of agency in cross-cultural contexts, the growing primacy of human agency in most spheres of life, and about organizations as expressions of collective agency. I could even use some his statements about such matters to further document the blending of space and time into his agency views — e.g., “Through collective practices driven by a foreshortened perspective, humans may be well on the road to outsmarting themselves into irreversible ecological crises” (174).

But I am too spent to persist with all that right now, though I want you to know it’s there in his writings. I’ve done enough to confirm my proposition on behalf of STA:C. Time to proceed to that briefing-like overview depiction next.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Reading with STA:C in mind: Albert Bandura’s “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (1st of 2 posts) — strong overlaps with STA:C’s action component

This post, overdue by a year, discusses a writing by Albert Bandura, the Stanford-based psychologist renowned for his work on the importance of human agency, particularly “self-efficacy”. The post pertains to the action part of my nascent framework about people’s space-time-action orientations and their effects on cognition and culture (STA:C).

This write-up has become longer, the more I have worked on it. So I’m breaking into two, maybe three parts.

Frankly, I have not enjoyed reading or writing for this post. But doing it is requisite for what’s next: an upcoming post to offer a revised updated briefing-style overview of STA:C.

Doing literature reviews to verify STA:C: Lefebvre, Zimbardo & Boyd, now Bandura

Years ago, after writing two background posts about STA:C (here & here), plus a post or two about applying it to terrorist mindsets (e.g., here), I decided in 2014 to do a series based on literature reviews as a way to make progress on STA:C. The first examined a classic about social space: Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space. The second focused on a recent book about time perspectives: Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Time Paradox. That meant a third was still needed about people’s action orientations — their sense of agency. This belated post meets that need.

This series is not about the writings individually, but about an over-arching purpose that serves STA:C — to show that each expert writing, besides dwelling on its avowed focus on space, or time, or action orientations, inevitably turns to say something about all three. My proposition is that a major expert writing cannot avoid doing so.

Thus my reviews are meant to help confirm, for STA:C’s sake, that people’s space-time-action orientations function as a bundle — as an interrelated set of cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind or culture can do without. This cognitive triplex underpins the distinctive nature of every mind and every culture.

In other words, the theorists reviewed in my series — Lefebvre, Zimbardo, and now Bandura — appear to be writing about their singular specialty: space, time, or action. But, from a STA:C perspective, these experts are studying only one part or another of a systematic mental and cultural complex that is truly comprised of all three orientations. They’re doing it narrowly and unknowingly by emphasizing their specialization in just one of the three orientations. Does it resemble the parable of the blind mean and the elephant?

While each of these three cognitive/cultural domains are usually analyzed separately, STA:C says to examine them together. The more we learn about analyzing people’s space-time-action orientations, the more we shall realize that all three are so thoroughly interlaced in our minds and cultures that they comprise a cognitive module. And if I’m right, the unfolding of that realization will matter not only across academic disciplines, but also to real-world analysts and strategists of all stripes. Figure out people’s space-time-action beliefs as a bundle and you can figure out better than ever why people think and behave the ways they do.

In that sense, my objective with this post isn’t simply to post about Bandura, but to do needed background work for revising a 2014 post (here) that depicted STA in six briefing-style slides. It left largely blank a slide about Bandura, because I’d not finished this post at the time. Now, I can reissue it next as an updated depiction of space-time-action cognition/culture analysis (now, STA:C).

Selecting a Bandura writing to focus on

When I went looking for a writing about people’s action orientations, I was initially drawn to Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997), for it discussed psychological efficacy in a manner that matched what I think action means in the STA:C framework. Other option were grand theories of social action — e.g., by sociologists Talcott Parsons, Anthony Giddens, or Manuel Castells. They engage space and time factors; but they also use broader definitions of action than I think is best for developing STA:C at this point. Another option was a history of the Western concept of “progress” and its dependence on innovations in thinking about space, time, and action (as discussed here). Or a writing, perhaps by an anthropologist, about differences between Western and Asian modes of thought. But for now, I’d rather look into a writing of a more theoretical and psychological bent — namely, Bandura’s book.

Bandura’s book is commendable. It is his masterwork on self-efficacy. And it lays out at length the ideas he first expressed in his seminal paper, “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change” (1977), and builds on his magisterial Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory (1986). But I became daunted by the book’s unwieldy size, academic prose, and emphasis on matters of little interest to me (e.g., phobias, addictions). So I turned to another hard-copy book he edited: Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies (1995). His lead chapter summarizes his key ideas and observations. But then I dithered for a year, partly because of my increasing need for digital texts to ease copying and pasting quotes.

Now, still weary but ready to make a new effort, I have re-examined other overviews and come across an article — “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2006) — that offers a recent summary and can be accessed digitally. It contains many key points — even identical passages — that appear in his Self-Efficacy book and other summaries/overviews. So I’ve opted to rely on that paper as the basis for this post. Yet, partly because that paper focuses on “agency” more than “self-efficacy”, I supplement my effort with a few gleanings from some of his other oft-quoted writings.

Unless otherwise indicated, then, all quotes in this post (and the next) are from this 2006 paper.

After all, my goal is not to survey Bandura’s work thoroughly, but rather just to verify that, when he goes about analyzing people’s action (agency, efficacy) orientations, this leading expert must and does say a lot about people’s space and time orientations as well.

Readers interested in Bandura’s work will find an enormous archive online at the University of Kentucky (here). It contains decades of Bandura’s writings (including what I review here), as well as numerous discussions and applications by other scholars. This curated resource also includes methodologies (questionnaires, indicators, indexes, scales) for measuring a person’s sense of efficacy.

What action means in the STA:C framework: a reminder

First, a reminder of what the action orientation means in my proposed framework about the space-time-action elements of consciousness, cognition, and culture. To reiterate what I wrote in an earlier post (here), action refers to the basic beliefs that people hold about whether and how they can affect and perhaps alter their environment, what instruments and alternatives they have for doing so, and what are deemed proper actions. Thus this orientation reflects people's notions about cause-effect and ends-means relationships.

Perhaps, in particular situations, people’s action orientations cannot be fully abstracted from their space and time orientations. Yet, this is a distinct realm of cognition about the abilities and prospects — the power, efficacy, will, capacity — that an actor thinks he or she has for affecting a situation, independently of one’s space and time orientations.

For example, the action orientation may get at differences between two actors who share similar hopes about the future and critiques of the present, but differ over whether and how a system can be changed and their hopes attained, perhaps because they differ as to what actions are legitimate, or because one feels a sense of power and the other does not.

STA:C’s social action element thus concerns a matter that often arises in analyses of history, philosophy, and anthropology, not to mention psychology: whether people can master and guide their destiny, or whether they are subject to an inevitable, even preordained place and fate about which they can do little to nothing — indeed, whether one's life is the stuff of lawful or random forces.

This view from STA:C seems mighty close to Bandura’s view of agency and efficacy, now that I have read some of his writings.

Bandura’s focus on agency and self-efficacy (STA:C’s action component)

Bandura’s paper focuses on the importance of agency, meaning the ability “to influence intentionally one’s functioning and life circumstances.” (164) Agency is important because “malleability and agentic capability are the hallmark of human nature.” (173) Indeed, developing an “agentic self” is one of life’s most meaningful endeavors. Agency is good to have because it means a person “can generate a wider array of options”:
“The cultivation of agentic capabilities adds concrete substance to abstract metaphysical discourses about freedom and determinism. People who develop their competencies, self-regulatory skills, and enabling beliefs in their efficacy can generate a wider array of options that expand their freedom of action, and are more successful in realizing desired futures, than those with less developed agentic resources.” (166)
Efficacy as the essence of agency: In saying so, Bandura clarifies that personal efficacy beliefs are the “foundation of human agency”:
“Among the mechanisms of human agency, none is more central or pervasive than belief of personal efficacy (Bandura, 1997). This core belief is the foundation of human agency. Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act, or to persevere in the face of difficulties. Whatever other factors serve as guides and motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to effect changes by one’s actions.” (170)
He also clarifies that efficacy beliefs comprise a “key personal resource” that influences myriad key aspects of how people approach and go through life:
“Belief in one’s efficacy is a key personal resource in personal development and change (Bandura, 1997). It operates through its impact on cognitive, motivational, affective, and decisional processes. Efficacy beliefs affect whether individuals think optimistically or pessimistically, in self-enhancing or self-debilitating ways. Such beliefs affect people’s goals and aspirations, how well they motivate themselves, and their perseverance in the face of difficulties and adversity. Efficacy beliefs also shape people’s outcome expectations — whether they expect their efforts to produce favorable outcomes or adverse ones. In addition, efficacy beliefs determine how opportunities and impediments are viewed. People of low efficacy are easily convinced of the futility of effort in the face of difficulties.” (170-171)
Thus he goes on to conclude that “efficacy beliefs contribute significantly to level of motivation, emotional well-being, and performance accomplishments.” So much so, that “In short, we are an agentic species that can alter evolutionary heritages and shape the future.” (171, 173)

Other oft-quoted Bandura writings state similarly that self-efficacy means “belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations” (Bandura, 1995, p. 2). Self-efficacy corresponds to “people's judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances” (1986, p. 391?). He often refers to “control” as an aspect of agency or efficacy.

Ways of acquiring and exercising agency: A critic of determinism, Bandura pioneered theorizing in the field of psychology about how people both shape and are shaped by their environments — arguing that there is a constant interplay between agency and structure, and that “people are producers as well as products of social systems” (1999, p. 21). Bandura’s key contribution in this regard is his concept of “triadic reciprocal causation” among personal, environmental, and behavioral determinants (170). Accordingly,
“People do not operate as autonomous agents. Nor is their behavior wholly determined by situational influences. Rather, human functioning is a product of a reciprocal interplay of intrapersonal, behavioral, and environmental determinants.” (Bandura, 1986, p. 165)
This analytic concept reflects that people are not passive participants in life, but bear personal responsibility for their actions and the influence they have, a theme he further develops under a concept of “moral agency” (to be discussed in Part 2):
“In the triadic interplay of intrapersonal, behavioral, and environmental events, individuals insert personal influence into the cycle of causation by their choices and actions. Because they play a part in the course of events, they are at least partially accountable for their contribution to those happenings.” (172)
Then, as people think and act, what becomes crucial for their sense of agency are “mastery experiences”. His 2006 paper barely alludes to this, but other writings (esp. 1986) treat them as “the most influential source of self-efficacy information” (Pajares, 1997, p. 22). As Bandura notes in one handy listing of what to look for in measuring people’s sense of efficacy,
“And finally, powerful mastery experiences that provide striking testimony to one’s capacity to effect personal changes can produce a transformational restructuring of efficacy beliefs that is manifested across diverse realms of functioning. Extraordinary personal feats serve as transforming experiences.” (Bandura, 2006a, p. 308)
I’d be remiss if I did not mention Bandura’s ideas about “triadic reciprocal causality” and about “mastery experiences”. But I don’t see much bearing on STA:C right now.

Against this background, what I mainly want to mention for STA:C’s sake is his distinction among three ways of exercising of agency: direct personal agency, proxy agency (exercised indirectly, often by somebody else), and collective agency (say, by a group). As he says, the three ways often occur in mixes. Accordingly,
“Social cognitive theory distinguishes among three modes of agency: individual, proxy, and collective. Everyday functioning requires an agentic blend of these three forms of agency.” (165)
This appears to be a key typology in his work. But from a STA:C perspective, I have doubts about it. For its content appears to be more spatial than agentic in nature — as I elaborate in closing remarks below.

While his emphasis is on personal agency and how that affects a person’s life, he constantly returns to the importance of collective agency too: “People’s conjoint belief in their collective capability to achieve given attainments is a key ingredient of collective agency.” (165) Indeed, a people’s sense of collective agency — its presence, absence, other characteristics — often has profound effects on the performance capabilities of their social systems and cultures (to be discussed in my next post).

Historical and developmental origins of a sense of agency: A sense of agency does not spring from unidentifiable sources — it is learned. As many scholars have pointed out, it is rooted in turning points in mankind’s cultural and philosophical history. And once people believe in human agency, it is generated through early childhood cognitive development as well. Bandura refers to both origins.

In discussing agency’s historical background, Bandura is sketchy and selective, barely noting the many ways whereby human agency has arisen and evolved across the ages. For example, there’s no discussion about early tool making and tool use as inspirations for agency — a matter other scholars have emphasized. Nonetheless, Bandura keenly stresses that agency stemmed from people’s ancient development of language and symbol-processing capacities, followed later by overcoming early theological views that people’s lives were set by divine design. Thus, perhaps especially since the Enlightenment period, people have evolved into a “sentient agentic species … unique in their power to shape their life circumstances and the course of their lives” (164).

Throughout, Bandura decries doctrines of determinism and favors a kind of potentialism (my term, not his). Yet, he insists that, while the rise of “free will” ideas helped, agency involves more than that: “It is not a matter of ‘‘free will,’’ which is a throwback to medieval theology, but, in acting as an agent, an individual makes causal contributions to the course of events.” (165) Although he says little about past technologies, he dwells on modern information and communications technologies — the Internet in particular — as enablers of agency (to be discussed in Part 2).

Presumably because Bandura is far more the psychologist than an historian, he does better at discussing the origins of personal agency in early childhood. Thus infants construct an “agentic self” as they learn to perceive cause-effect relationships, to differentiate themselves from others as individuals and realize “they can make things happen … as agents of their actions”:
“The newborn arrives without any sense of selfhood and personal agency. The self must be socially constructed through transactional experiences with the environment. The developmental progression of a sense of personal agency moves from perceiving causal relations between environmental events, through understanding causation via action, and finally to recognizing oneself as the agent of the actions. … As infants begin to develop some behavioral capabilities, they not only observe but also directly experience that their actions make things happen. …
“Development of a sense of personal agency requires more than simply producing effects by actions. Infants acquire a sense of personal agency when they recognize that they can make things happen and they regard themselves as agents of their actions. This additional understanding extends the perception of agency from action causality to personal causality. The differentiation of oneself from others is the product of a more general process of the construction of an agentic self. … The self becomes differentiated from others through rudimentary dissimilar experiences.” (169)

Challenge of measuring people’s sense of agency and self-efficacy

I remain on the lookout for measurement methodologies — questionnaires, indexes, scales — that may serve to operationalize STA:C. Lefebvre’s book offered no such thing for space. And from what I’ve seen, nor do writings by today’s experts on space — indeed, they seem less inclined than experts on time and agency to design methodologies. In contrast, Zimbardo’s work has led to a widely used methodology for assessing people’s time perspectives (as I discuss here). Bandura’s work fits somewhere in between.

Bandura is definitely interested in seeing measurement methodologies designed — e.g., see his “Guide for Constructing Self-Efficacy Scales” (2006a). Many of his colleagues are likewise interested — e.g., see discussions by Frank Pajares in his “Current Directions in Self-efficacy Research” (1997), and by Brian Francis Redmond in his periodically updated write-up about “Self-Efficacy and Social Cognitive Theories” (2016). There’s also an attempt called “The General Self-Efficacy Scale” (GSE) that consists of 10 questions. But careful caveats and qualifications figure throughout.

Bandura’s views about “the centrality of efficacy beliefs in people’s lives” mean that “sound assessment of this factor is crucial to understanding and predicting human behavior” (2006a, p. 319). Yet he is very cautious about generalizing. What must be measured is the “perceived capability to produce given attainments” — i.e., confidence about what a person can and will do (2006a, p. 318). But as Bandura knows, most people’s sense of efficacy varies from one situation to another:
“Efficacy beliefs differ in generality, strength, and level. People may judge themselves efficacious across a wide range of activity domains or only in certain domains of functioning.” (2006a, p. 313).
As a result, he decries trying to concoct all-purpose measures, and advises coming up with scales that are tailored to particular domains and situations:
“There is no all-purpose measure of perceived self-efficacy. The “one measure fits all” approach usually has limited explanatory and predictive value because most of the items in an all-purpose test may have little or no relevance to the domain of functioning. Moreover, in an effort to serve all purposes, items in such a measure are usually cast in general terms divorced from the situational demands and circumstances. This leaves much ambiguity about exactly what is being measured or the level of task and situational demands that must be managed. Scales of perceived self-efficacy must be tailored to the particular domain of functioning that is the object of interest.” (2006a, pp. 307-308)
I suppose that’s right. But it does not augur well for eventually coming up with a methodology for STA:C.

Transitional wrap-up comments apropos STA:C

Before examining Bandura’s incorporation of space and time orientations, I have a few wrap-up comments regarding what’s above:

1. It’s clear that Bandura’s view of agency and efficacy overlaps closely with my view of STA:C’s action component. His writings thus help confirm that the STA:C framework is on the right track.

2. His typology about three kinds of agency — direct, proxy, and collective— is sensible. But something feels off, missing, incomplete. Yes, those are three ways people exercise agency. But from a STA:C standpoint, they look more spatial than agentic in nature, for they presume that one’s environment — one’s space — contains other actors. So this typology, which seems more central to his concept than any other typology I spot, does not capture the essence of agency. The typology captures who exercises agency, but not what it actually consists of. That essence, I presume, would be more about the material and immaterial substances of power, control, influence, and/or the like — e.g., about distinctions between hard and soft power, or between physical, emotional, and ideational agency, or maybe something else I can’t quite see yet in his work. As I recall, he makes such distinctions now and then in discussing one topic or another, but they don’t get surfaced and highlighted in a systematic typological way (unless I’ve not read enough of his work).

3. Notice that Bandura finds the cognitive and cultural roots of human agency in particular historical turning-points, and then in early childhood development. As I’ve noted in my other posts in this series, Lefebvre writing about space (here), as well as Zimbardo & Boyd writing about time (here), do much the same in discussing the roots of the cognitive orientations they examine. This may be worth more investigation than I can do, in order to help show that all three STA:C orientations have co-evolved, co-developed together. Writings about the concept of progress, such as Robert Nisbet’s History of the Idea of Progress (1994), cover some of this ground. So do studies about the formation of spatial, temporal, and to a lesser extent, agentic perspectives during childhood — e.g., long ago by Jean Piaget, and lately by Walter Mischel in his current best-seller The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success (2015), not to mention Bandura’s Stanford colleague Carol Dweck in her Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006) about adult development. But from a STA:C standpoint, much more could and should be done.

4. It might be useful to go through some scales that Bandura and his colleagues have used for measuring agency and efficacy. So that I can find out, for STA:C’s sake, whether and how many of the measures that are presumed to measure agency are actually measuring space or time orientations. Just as I found that many questions in Zimbardo’s time-perspective tests were more about space and action/agency orientations. But I presently lack eagerness to do so for this post, partly because, unlike the case with Zimbardo, Bandura and his colleagues have not generated a core questionnaire and scale, and also because the scales they have generated are domain-specific for topics of little interest to me (e.g., educational performance). What would motivate me is a methodology that might apply to assessing the agentic beliefs of people who become jihadi terrorists, or national-security strategists.


UPDATED — June 10, 2016: In addition to a few citation corrections, I added a quote up front (from Bandura, 2006, p. 164), expanded the paragraph about measurement methodologies, and slightly emended closing comment #2.