FIR against 3 LUMS Faculty members and 2 students

Academics for Freedom condemns in the strongest terms the FIR on false charges registered against 3 faculty members of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and 2 students, including the president of the Student Council. The faculty members include:
1) Osama Siddique (Law faculty)
2) Rasul Buksh Rais (Social Sciences faculty)
3) Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (Social Sciences faculty)
The students include:
1) Saad Hassan Latif
2) Umar Malik
The charge leveled against them in the FIR is that of wall-chalking the Defence Police Station. Academics for Freedom recognises that these extremely frivolous charges are simply an attempt to harrass and intimidate members of the LUMS community.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Emergency: The Psychology of Military Incompetence

Pakistan’s year of troubles following General Pervez Musharraf’s attempts to procure re-election has almost reached a climax. Since its beginning people have looked for explanations for the extraordinary missteps and blunders that have marked the re-election campaign. One common theory on the street takes its cue from the alleged psychology of military servicemen. The two variants of the ‘bloody fool’ theory suggest, first, that a military career tends to attract intellectually dull second sons, often those with temperaments too unstable for any kind of professional middle class career. Second, the institutional variant of the same theory suggests that no matter what the intellectual potential, the rigidities, excessive orderliness, and narrowly focused procedural thinking characteristic of military training stunts the intellect. In either case the explanation for the recent blunders lies in the military leadership, to wit General Musharraf himself.

As a general description of military men or specifically of General Musharraf, the ‘bloody fool’ theory leaves much to be desired. Though Pakistan has no shortage of retired officers of all ranks (including the highest ranks) who could charitably be described as dullards, there is also no shortage of officers who do not, by any means, fall in this category. General Musharraf in his speeches and biography (admittedly a biography ghostwritten by an author whose family business includes such writings) shows himself to be both intelligent and articulate. What then explains the popularity of the theory? Is it merely an indication of the frustration of a people under martial law venting pent up emotions privately? Certainly, but folk psychology also contains a vein of truth.

Professor Norman Dixon in his classic book titled ‘On the Psychology of Military Incompetence’ identifies certain characteristics of military thinking and behavior that afflict even highly intelligent officers and lead to catastrophes. Among these are a belief in mystical forces, a tendency to reject unpalatable information, indecisiveness coupled with a tendency to use brute force and frontal assault, suppression or distortion of news, a readiness to find scapegoats, conservatism in the form of a failure to learn from the past or use surprise or new technologies appropriately, a failure to use reconnaissance and intelligence and a persistence and obstinacy in the face of failure. A cursory look at the events of the past year shows all of these characteristics in play. The critical point made by Professor Dixon, is that none of these are the result of a lack of intelligence, they are the consequence of a complex interplay of temperamental and situational factors.

Take for example mysticism. At many points in his biography (which otherwise is remarkably free of any episodes of self reflection) General Mushrarraf relates a mystical sense of oneness with the country. In nearly every speech to the nation, he has talked about this same mystical connection. Mystical experiences are relatively common and well understood in psychology. They come in many varieties and usually involve patterns of activity in particular areas in the temporal lobe of the brain. Both meditation and extreme mental / physical exertion can reliably give rise to such experiences which can have powerful motivating as well as therapeutic effects on the individual and others. But the characteristic pattern shown in presidential speeches shows another, less welcome, aspect. Sometimes, they can be used by an individual as para-rational evidence for the rightness of a chosen course of action. Crudely put, something in the form of ‘I have this profound feeling which is evidence that what I am doing is right’. Apparent to outsiders, the effects and operation of this fallacy is extremely difficult for the subject to perceive. An analogous fallacy also well known to psychologists is called the ‘representativeness heuristic’. In experiments people are told that Linda is in her thirties, and was interested in politics and philosophy at college and supports the peace movement. People are then asked to judge whether it is more likely that Linda is a bankteller or that she is a bankteller and a feminist. Most people agree that the latter option is more probable, unaware that they have committed the logical fallacy equivalent to saying that it is more probable that an object is a white Suzuki car than that it is a white car. If military personnel are more prone to such fallacies it is because a part of military leadership is invoking and communicating precisely such mystical feelings in self and others. The problem arises in situations, particularly unfamiliar situations, where an over-reliance on such methods can lead to an intelligent officer motivating himself and others into a catastrophe.

Similarly, certain other characteristic failings can be attributed to the interaction between universal human group dynamics and the value system of the military. Membership in any group triggers powerful psychological mechanisms in social animals like human beings. In what is called the ‘minimal group paradigm’ psychologists divide participants randomly into two groups. Members are told that the division is purely random. Despite this, group psychological mechanisms cause members to denigrate out-group members and the perceived attributes of the out-group and exaggerate differences between the values of groups. They will also systematically favor in-group members. There exist no careful studies of the value system of the Pakistan military but self evidently it differs in content, diversity and emphasis from that of the people of Pakistan. In the simplest sense this means that opinions and information from perceived outsiders is ignored or at best politely accepted with minimum weight. Information to or from outsiders is carefully controlled for their benefit because they are lacking the values to use it ‘correctly’. At worst their persons are readily denigrated. In this sense the reason for the particular animus General Musharraf holds for the civil society of Pakistan becomes obvious. They the most outside of the outsiders, the most civilian of the civilians. As he has called them, in several speeches, the liberal militants.

It is an old observation in Psychology that commonsense is far more effective in retrospect; complex, confusing issues and decisions appear very obvious, even straightforward after the fact. Is it possible that a few years from now, under a re-elected President the current crisis will disappear leaving no traces? The analysis of military psychology suggests that any positive outcome will be purely a matter of luck and to leave national decision-making under military influence would be a grave gamble against heavy odds with a high price to pay. Nor does the solution lie simply in an election. The behavior of politicians is, from the psychological perspective, as prone to different kinds of errors of judgment as the military. What is critical is for all national institutions – the executive, the judiciary and the legislative (not leaving out the press) – each with their characteristic modes of thinking, to be able to function freely. Each pillar of state has its psychological strengths and weakness. It is only when one achieves unusual predominance that its characteristic weaknesses threaten national catastrophe. The answer from psychology for the current crisis is the commonsense answer: a return to constitutional democratic rule. For once commonsense provides foresight.

1 comment:

Publius said...

An interesting expose on the nature of the military mind and how certain theories from psychology explain the Musharrafian antics.

Though all of this is interesting, this does not relate to the situation at hand.

For instance, how do we analyze the recent steps taken by the Musharraf administration? Did hyper judicial activism lead to such an impasse?

Would have liked to see more in the way of the mentioned.