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Can Obama Put Down the Brie and Opt for Real Change?


Chaliventures, lying in Fethiye, Turkey.

It is trite to say that madness occurs when the mind governing decisions and actions becomes systemically disconnected from the real world.

But in the Versailles on the Potomac, where madness has been taken to a high art form, reinforced by pseudo science, ideology, and greed, all neatly packaged in compelling powerpoint briefings, transformative visions, and amplified by an adoring mainstream media, it is difficult to know what the real world really is. To this end, in the 1980s, the military reformers led by Col John R. Boyd found it necessary to develop a more precise working definition of madness: We concluded that madness occurs when the decision maker’s Observation – Orientation – Decision – Action (OODA) loop becomes increasingly distorted and disconnected from its environment by the existence of Incestuous Amplification.

Incestuous Amplification is a common phenomenon in Versailles. It occurs when the preconceptions in the decider’s Orientation (which is his/her repository of ideology, belief systems, cultural heritage, previous experiences, education, genetic heritage, etc) misshape the Observations feeding that Orientation. Note that the key word is misshape: there is no question that one’s Orientation always shapes everything that is apprehended in the environment, or that one’s orientation evolves and changes overtime in response to changes in the interaction between the organism and its environment. The measure of merit is whether that Orientation produces Decisions and Actions that improve the match up between the decision making organism and its environment, as it marches along the one-way arrow of time. But when the decider’s Orientation becomes infected by Incestuous Amplification, the opposite occurs — his Orientation distorts observations in a way that drives the interaction to toward an ever-increasing mismatch between the organism and its environment. Viewed abstractly, here is how it happens.

Incestuous Amplification, in effect, hijacks the Orientation of decider’s OODA loop by overriding Observations to a point where his Orientation induces the Decider to see and Act on what he wants to see rather than what is. (BTW … when a self-styled decider or change agent uses the words like “vision” and “transformation” in the same paragraph, it is sure warning sign that such a hijacking is well underway.) It follows that the Decisions and Actions flowing from this kind of Orientation must be disconnected from reality, except by accident or chance. But this initial disconnect is only the first order effect, subsequent effects remove any significant possibility of a lucky break. That is because the disconnect between the Actions and the environment those actions purport to cope with pumps dysfunctional behavior back into the entire OODA loop, which then folds back on itself to magnify the mismatch. How this happens becomes clear when one realizes that the consequences of the first-order actions (which, as discussed above, are already disconnected from the exigencies of the environment) create changes or external effects that are then fed back into the OODA loop as subsequent Observations. These new Observations are distorted again by the highjacked Orientation of the decider, who sees again what he wants to see. This produces new Decisions and Actions, which, in turn, are even more disconnected from reality. And so the cycle not only repeats itself but mutates by amplifying itself — the effect is a little like placing a microphone next a speaker when recording, only much more dangerous.

That is because, as any student of nonlinear dynamics in control theory or the theory of evolution by natural selection can tell you, this kind of positive feedback loop, if not corrected by some form of selection (natural or otherwise), must produce an explosive spiral of ever increasing mismatches, leading to confusion and disorder that inevitably degenerate into chaos or death or extinction. Left uncorrected, the organism exhibiting an incestuously amplifying OODA loop becomes evermore disconnected from its environment, but nevertheless blunders forward to the tune of its internal dynamics. Without a correction, there can be but one outcome: the environment eventually intrudes to make the irrevocable decision. Put another way, all living systems can be viewed as open (thermodynamic) systems that must process a flux of matter, energy, and information to maintain their coherence. To do this, they must communicate effectively with their environments. Incestuous amplification has the effect of closing off the system from its environment, and any activity in a closed system always generates entropy, thereby making it impossible to maintain that system’s coherence. So, without a correction or change that opens the decider’s OODA loop to an effective communication with the real world, the only uncertainty in the outcome is how long an OODA loop driven mad by incestuous amplification can last before it degenerates into chaos and is selected out.

Now, with this working appreciation of Madness in mind, I urge you to read carefully this recent essay by Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and professor at Boston University. Then ask yourself (1) whether or not the OODA loops of President Bush and his neocon henchmen have been highjacked by Incestuous Amplification and (2) whether or not the real world has intruded to such an extent that a sharp correction to the Decider’s OODA Loops is now desperately needed . If the answers to questions 1 and 2 are both yes, examine the list below and ask yourself you think is a Decider who is truly least prone to incestuous amplification and therefore most capable of injecting reality into the America’s OODA loop?

McCain (True or False)
Palin (True or False)
Obama (True or False)
Biden (True or False)

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon who became famous in the early 1980s for what became known as the “Spinney Report”, criticizing what he described as the reckless pursuit of costly complex weapon systems by the Pentagon, with disregard to budgetary consequences. Despite attempts by the his superiors to bury the controversial report, it eventually was exposed during a United States Senate Budget Committee on Defense hearing, which though scheduled to go unnoticed, made the cover of Time Magazine March 7, 1983. CHUCK SPINNEY retired from the Pentagon after 33 years and currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean.



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Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at

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