Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, May 04, 2007

Over-Thinking America

America, the over-thought.

One of the downsides of being a wealthy and well-educated nation is that we can afford the luxury of thinking an awful lot about an awful lot of things. Why is this a problem? Here's an example:
Lapses found in battlefield ethics study

In a survey of U.S. troops in combat in Iraq, less than half of Marines and a little more than half of Army soldiers said they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.

More than 40 percent support the idea of torture in some cases, and 10 percent reported personally abusing Iraqi civilians, the Pentagon said Friday in what it called its first ethics study of troops at the war front. Units exposed to the most combat were chosen for the study, officials said. ...

Findings included: ...

_Only 47 percent of the soldiers and 38 percent of Marines said noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect.

_About a third of troops said they had insulted or cursed at civilians in their presence.

_About 10 percent of soldiers and Marines reported mistreating civilians or damaging property when it was not necessary. Mistreatment includes hitting or kicking a civilian.

_Forty-four percent of Marines and 41 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to save the life of a soldier or Marine.

_Thirty-nine percent of Marines and 36 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to gather important information from insurgents. (source)

Thinking too much about too many things.

Time was, you trained a soldier how to think, use weapons, take commands, fight. From Thermopylae to Guadalcanal, good soldiers have used this formula to fight hard, win well or die valiantly.

Now that's not enough, so we have surveys of soldiers' and Marines' thoughts on ethics, which nfortunately desk jockeys at the Pentagon are paying attention to. They will think too much again, busying themselves with regs, guidances, training manuals, policies, procedures and punishments.

For the combat troops, all this takes up cranium space that would be better used processing thoughts about how to stay alive while making sure the bad guys don't. Worse, it crowds into their decision-making time and combat is a split-second affair.

There's a better way to do this. Good officers and non-comms and good communications, plus example setting, and making examples when need be. But that doesn't take over-thinking. That would meant no study, and that would have meant we wouldn't have to deal with headlines like this one from BBC: US Iraq Troops 'Condone Torture'.

I spend my working life with the consequences of America's fixation on over-thinking because my specialty is PR and issues management for a highly regulated industry: land development. It is easier to get permission to open someone's chest, take out their heart and transplant another heart into it than it is to get permission in to build a new home community in California.

And yes, it takes less time to go to college and med school, go through an internship and get yourself onto that heart transplant team than it takes to process some of the projects I'm working on -- all because of overthinking.

People have thought about how many times cars will come and go from a single storied detached home vs. a four-story senior center or an elementary school. They've thought about how much territory a pair of California gnatcatchers needs to nest successfully, vs. how much a cactus wren needs. They've thought about how many tiny particles of soil run off a construction site in a five-year vs. a 50-year storm.

Just thinking about something doesn't necessarily mean you're getting any smarter. Take that soil in the run-off. Hypersensitive environmental officers can measure it to infantesable smallness, so they regulate every speck of it out runoff (as if dirt didn't run off land naturally). Trouble is, if water is made that clean, it wants dirt in it, so it just sucks more particles out of the soil downstream.

I recently saw a multi-megabyte file of line after line of computer runs that modeled how a flood control channel would work under a certain condition of rain volume over time. Printed out, it filled a two-inch binder. It was the work of my friend Neil, who has often given my ideas for C-SM posts. He told me that in order to meet all the questions FEMA needed answers to for a new project, he had to run 400 variations of the model. 400!

Thinking to much about too many things.

It goes on and on, in industry after industry, with massively negative results. The more we think, the more we know and the more some people worry and see a chance to exert control and impose their values on others. Dust isn't dust, it's something that can be measured, which means it can be regulated, which opens opportunities to stop or delay things, drive up costs, and give business to attorneys.

But dust is huge, clumsy and so 20th Century. Now that we can measure concentrations down to the parts per billions and gazillions! Think of the possibilities!

And as small as we can get, we can get just as big. Overthinking is the fuel that fires global warming hysteria. If it weren't our wealth, education and time -- time not spent struggling to provide food and shelter -- we wouldn't be able to fund the studies, buy the computers and take the measurements, so we wouldn't have thought of global warming at all.

But we have the wealth, education and time, so we think a lot about global warming.

Now we're over-thinking how we should fight wars. That's fine when it leads to better weapons and intelligence, but it is anything but fine when it allows people to put the image of our troops ahead of the effectiveness of our troops.

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