Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Nerve war and Political Panic

Two recent bits of information that may relate conceptually.

One is an entry on tactical psychological warfare created by the CIA in the 1950's (via Cryptome). The paper states:

"Any effort to defeat the enemy must therefore concentrate to a great extent upon ... key enemy individuals ... If such an effort is made by means short of physical violence, we call it "psychological warfare". If it is focused less upon convincing those individuals by logical reasoning, but primarily upon moving them in the desired direction by means of harassment, by frightening, confusing and misleading them, we speak of "nerve war". Such a nerve war can be waged against an entire nation or against major groups of the population. "
It has a number of interesting techniques in the paper.

The second entry is an interview via Radio National, also available as a podcast, on the political history of panic, with a focus on the U.S. in the Cold War (via Mind Hacks). It comes across as a "big picture" view of panic, where populations were panicked during the cold war and it progressed into individual panic and the use of medicinal drugs to control individual panic. It'd be interesting to see a more indepth study of this progression to see if populations that are panicked then internalize their fear, and may follow up with drugs, be they medicinal or otherwise (perhaps a dual combo for future unrestricted warfare? Psychological warfare followed by drug war?).

There seems to be a lot of this commentary lately i.e. the effects of fear after 9/11, especially the spread of contagions via the media onto western society. It'd be nice to see a historical study of panic/fear from the Russians perspective in the Cold War, or current studies on how Islamic cultures see (or is it feel?) the west. Are there such studies?

Also via Mind Hacks, this bizarre video that uses some of the interview in a surreal audio-visual mish-mash entitled "How panic-proof are you?" (perhaps an alternate facet of resilience is panic-proof?). The video:


Jay@Soob said...

That nerve war article has an excellent 5GW ring to it.

The video is a fine piece, but also reinforces my vision of the 1950's being one of the more creepy decades in American history in terms of the more covert elements of our government.

I'm downloading the podcast now.

Dan tdaxp said...

Panic (large variation from expected behavior) may be adaptive in an environment where expected behavior will get you killed.

Jay@Soob said...

By adaptive do you mean more or less prone to panic?

Jay@Soob said...

Hmm. A bit let down by the podcast. While it was an excellent interview (I'm jealous, Munz, of your ABC radio) it seemed to concentrate on the authors personal experiences.

Upon further reflection, I'd ask, was Panic responsible for the various examples she sites or are we looking at a case of ignorance and the subsequent "do what the gubberment sez" mentality? Or are the two mutually inclusive (remember the duct tape and plastic nonsense a few years ago?)

Or is she missing ignorance as the catalyst for panic in societal terms?

G said...

Jay, I think it is because she is a sociologist with a psycho-analytic bent and the PoMo crowd tend to think that ones personal story or opinion is just as "true" as fact. Or something like that. So she may be more interested in the story behind her panic, though I would have liked to heard a more psychology-centric view of panic.

I also think as a sociologist she may classify panic differently to a psychologist. Panic for sociologists would be similar to a moral panic and herd behaviour, so perhaps that is why she comes across as a little ambivalent in how she implicitly defines panic because maybe she wants to tell her story at a personal level (the realm of psychology) but is constrained by her sociological background.

I dunno if ignorance could go together with panic either, personally, I've always found the most ignorant fools to be quite psycholgically and physically resilient to hardships and fear inducing situations. I always thought this was because they don't dwell on whatever is happening, before hand or after. Whilst people who get panic attacks, or panic in general do dwell on things that may or may not be actually happening. Similar to that old acronym (or backronym in this case) for fear: False Evidence Appearing Real.

I might have a look around google scholar later on and see if there is any connection between the pair.

Dan tdaxp said...



Panic is adaptive when not-panicking probably gets you bad outcomes anyway.

Obviously, panicing in more typical situations is probably not a good thing.

Jay@Soob said...

Dan, thanks for clarifying.


I had a quick look around Google Scholar and found little. Bear in mind my reference to ignorance entails a lack of knowledge (who knew in the 1950's that you could tuck your ass under a desk to no avail given a Soviet nuke launch) more than it does the lack of intellect.
Consider HG Wells War of the Worlds radio broadcast and the societal fall out.
Ask any American the difference between an Iraqi or an Iranian. Between Sunni and Shia. This is the ignorance I'm talking about.