(To read the rest of "Over-Reacting to COIN (Again): On Cultural Empathy and 'Gratitude Theory'", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)
A few weeks back, to help decide between business schools, I sat in on a class at USC’s Marshall School of Business. I thought it was going to be on marketing. Instead, got a lesson on counter-insurgency warfare and Afghanistan. The class was “Brand Management”.
The professor started his lecture by describing the three principles that guide all human decision making (the realm of marketing). The third principle, the topic of that day’s class, was “emotional predisposition.” He described how brands use advertising to create an emotional predisposition towards their products, specifically how those products can “enrich, entertain, or enable” your life.
Later in the class, he repeated the three major principles of marketing: “All humans are motivated by utility maximization, the minimum effort principle and emotional predisposition, in some measure.”
He used different terms than I did in December, but made the same point: humans don’t measure everything by utility maximization--some emotions override any cost/benefit decision. For example, one of our grandfathers, who fought in the Pacific, refused to think about considering even contemplating buying a Japanese motor vehicle. They could have given them away for free, but he wouldn’t have budged.
In other words, the professor described the exact model of human behavior I believe we need in counter-insurgencies. We cannot kill our way to victory because inflicting widespread death will have severe emotional consequences. (Which I will discuss more.) At the same time, we cannot simply buy things for the population if we haven’t established security for the population (I’ll discuss this straw man soon, too.). Instead, we need a population-centric approach that secures the population, reconstructs and builds a functioning government, and hunts down, detains or kills those who inflict violence on the government or population.
The professor added a key component to human nature that we had neglected. One of his principles was “the minimum effort principle”. While I haven’t specifically related this idea to insurgencies, plenty of other writers have. (Our post on management “Improve the Fighting Position” is about combating “the minimum effort principle” as it relates to your desk at work.) For example, a national security academic we hold in the highest regard made this point in an op-ed for the Daily Beast:
Populations, in civil wars, make cold-blooded calculations about their self-interest. If forced to choose sides in a civil war—and they will resist making that choice for as long as possible, for understandable reasons—they will side with the faction they assess to be the one most likely to win.
Yep, that is Andrew Exum, who I cited in “Getting Rid of the Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency”. While I rebutted his statement about “cold-blooded calculations”, that part in the middle, between the dashes, precisely sums up the minimum effort principle. The other book I recommend on this topic is A People Numerous and Armed by John Shy, whose thesis is that the American Revolution forced Americans to choose a side; it politicized the people leading to universal male suffrage.
So a psychologist with a Noble prize for economics, a marketing professor and The Economist have all said that our models of human behavior should include rationality, utility maximization, the minimum effort principle and emotional predisposition. Thanks to being the world’s foremost economic power, we can model and predict human behavior. Our Army could--hypothetically--tap into these vast reserves of marketing knowledge.
The question is, will we update our models to reflect that humans are rational and emotional, or will we just believe we can kill our way to victory?