Dec 5, 2007

Dawn of the Cognetic Age: Fighting Ideological War by Putting Thought in Motion with Impact

The new issue (Winter 2007) of Air & Space Power Journal features the now obligatory piece on IO, Dawn of the Cognetic Age: Fighting Ideological War by Putting Thought in Motion with Impact by Lt Col Bruce K. Johnson, USAF [Air Force Reserve chief of strategic communication plans, Pentagon].

This article introduces the term cognetic, coined by the author from the root words cognitive (relating to thought process) and kinetic (relating to, caused by, or producing motion). Currently, the term lacks a single, accepted meaning. I intend to use it in a unique way in order to define the essence of today’s fast-moving, unrestrained, nonstop global media (the Internet and transnational television) and their effect on public opinion and behavior. To be cognetic is to put thought in motion with impact. Thought takes the form of messages created by specific arrangements of images, sounds, and words. Motion signifies the global media’s unrestrained and rapid movement of messages to a target audience. Impact represents the effect on public opinion and behavior caused by perceptions generated by the message. Violent public reactions in the Muslim world to the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and to Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about Islam epitomize the term cognetic—putting thought in motion with a global impact. Unlike bombs and bullets—the effective conventional weapons of the Industrial Age—imagery, sounds, and words serve as the effective ideological weapons of the Cognetic Age.


Adopting shared terminologies, concepts, and principles is critical to developing a new capability for ideological warfare if the military services and various government agencies wish to avoid the misperceptions and negative baggage associated with old terminology and thinking. Many terms and concepts held over from the Industrial Age prevent us from thinking and communicating clearly about new threats we face in the Cognetic Age. For example, propaganda does not fit today’s decentralized information-communication environment because we associate it with the centralized control and management of information and communications that reflected the concentration of power during the Industrial Age. With the advent of the Internet and globalization, this concentration of power no longer exists in the hands of the few; indeed, many people now have access to it. This shift in power is the defining feature of the Cognetic Age. Moreover, considerable negative baggage has attached itself to propaganda, a word continually used to describe almost any activity having to do with influencing perceptions, whether for good or ill. This intellectual burden stifles our ability to fight ideological war by tying our minds and tongues to the dogmas of the past. By providing perceptually neutral terms and concepts, cognetics eliminates the knee-jerk reaction to propaganda, thus freeing our minds and enabling us to think differently as well as communicate more clearly about the ideological battle we face.

Cognetics is a new concept of ideological warfare, based on principles of maneuver warfare. Referred to as “blitzkrieg of the mind,” it occurs in a virtual place created by global media. Time and space, which constrain physical maneuver, are almost nonexistent here. The term cognetic effect expresses how the emotive content of messages delivered by global media influences public opinion and behavior. A force multiplier, cognetic effect empowers nonstate actors to influence public opinion and behavior on a global scale. By means of cognetics, the United States can win ideological warfare by advancing truth, dispelling rumors, correcting misinformation, and combating enemy psychological operations and perception influence. For militant Islam, the cognetic effect offers disproportionate power to drive people to action. Seen most vividly, the cognetic effect of the Jyllands-Posten’s Muhammad cartoons struck the Muslim world like a meteor, setting off shock waves of anger and sparking violent demonstrations from London to Lahore.


The nature of warfare in the Cognetic Age is ideological—something inherently antithetical to conventional war because “an idea cannot be destroyed with a bullet or a bomb; it must be replaced by a better idea.”


Someone possessing the quality of Fingerspitzengefuhl, literally “fingertip feeling,” has such a high level of competence that he or she can make decisions without hesitation, based on intuitive competence at all levels—from private to general. In addition to proficiency with weapons at the individual level, “intuitive competence” also applies at command level, where it refers in general to the “feel” that great commanders have for the progress of the battle and in particular to their seemingly uncanny abilities to detect and exploit openings while they still present opportunities. It comes from years of practice at ever-increasing levels of complexity.


In terms of Fingerspitzengefuhl, al-Qaeda made the most of leveraging the Madrid train-bombing terror attacks immediately before the Spanish election by successfully focusing the weight of Spanish voter perception against the pro-American ruling party of José Maria Anzar to elect the antiwar Socialist José Zapatero. Shortly after the election, Spain pulled its troops out of Iraq. As for the British, large-scale opposition to the war jumped to new heights following the attacks of 2005. The online newspaper Telegraph reported one year after the London bombings that 80 percent of those polled believed that England should split from the United States and pursue its own course in the war on terror. Both examples highlight militant Islam’s use of cognetics to pursue its strategic goals by attacking populations directly and amplifying the psychological effect of vulnerability through the media in an already negatively charged atmosphere to undermine US foreign policy.


We must adopt cognetic thinking to create a shared, systematic way of conceptualizing, communicating, and carrying out ideological warfare against militant Islam. The top US strategy documents all recognize that winning the war against this foe requires winning the battle of ideas. Cognetics provides the terminology, concepts, principles, and system needed to harmonize diverse government entities into a coherent and cohesive whole, thus enabling the government to mount a well-coordinated and effective ideological assault on militant Islam.

1 comment:

mark said...

I think DNI has a "Cognetics" article up as well on the original site. Maybe 2005 ?