Bill Wilson would never have another drink

April 20th, 2021

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg shares the story of the origin of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“I got religion,” the friend said. He talked about hell and temptation, sin and the devil. “Realize you are licked, admit it, and get willing to turn your life over to God.”

Wilson thought the guy was nuts. “Last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion,” he later wrote. When his friend left, Wilson polished off the booze and went to bed.

A month later, in December 1934, Wilson checked into the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions, an upscale Manhattan detox center. A physician started hourly infusions of a hallucinogenic drug called belladonna, then in vogue for the treatment of alcoholism. Wilson floated in and out of consciousness on a bed in a small room.

For days, he hallucinated. The withdrawal pains made it feel as if insects were crawling across his skin. He was so nauseous he could hardly move, but the pain was too intense to stay still. “If there is a God, let Him show Himself!” Wilson yelled to his empty room. “I am ready to do anything. Anything!” At that moment, he later wrote, a white light filled his room, the pain ceased, and he felt as if he were on a mountaintop, “and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness.”

Bill Wilson would never have another drink.

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All of which is somewhat unexpected, because AA has almost no grounding in science or most accepted therapeutic methods.

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In fact, AA’s methods seem to sidestep scientific and medical findings altogether, as well as the types of intervention many psychiatrists say alcoholics really need.

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What AA provides instead is a method for attacking the habits that surround alcohol use.

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Researchers say that AA works because the program forces people to identify the cues and rewards that encourage their alcoholic habits, and then helps them find new behaviors.

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“When you make a self-inventory, you’re figuring out all the things that make you drink. And admitting to someone else all the bad things you’ve done is a pretty good way of figuring out the moments where everything spiraled out of control.”

We should be far less worried about appeasing a would-be aggressor and much more concerned about a militarized foreign policy that overreacts to every possible danger

April 19th, 2021

While John Mueller’s new book certainly has a catchy title, The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency. it argues not only for complacency but for appeasement, too:

Mueller goes on to show that Washington has consistently exaggerated foreign threats and overestimated the need for militarized responses to threats that were minimal or non-existent, going all the way back to the earliest days of the Cold War. He persuasively argues the case for what he calls complacency and appeasement: the United States faces few real threats, most of them will diminish or implode before they become a serious problem, and most of the threats that policymakers obsess over are manageable or imaginary. He also challenges one of the central myths about the “liberal international order” by denying that an ambitious U.S. grand strategy was necessary to secure the benefits of postwar democratization and economic growth.

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While most advocates for a less aggressive U.S. foreign policy might shy away from the word appeasement, Mueller reclaims the term to restore it to its original meaning. Appeasement has been a curse word hurled against opponents of militaristic policies for the last 75 years because of the unusual events of the late 1930s. It described the efforts of Britain and France at that time to resolve international disputes through diplomatic negotiations to avoid another great war, and because this failed in the face of Hitler’s revanchist aggression, the word has been used to discredit diplomatic compromises ever since.

As Mueller points out, it was appeasement that averted catastrophe in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had the potential to lead to a global conflagration even more murderous than World War II. In general, he says, appeasement succeeds in avoiding stupid wars, and avoiding stupid wars is in the best interests of all concerned.

Hawks continue to conjure up the specter of Munich to justify their preferred policies, but the horrors of WWII already instructed the world in the insanity of wars between the major powers. We should be far less worried about appeasing a would-be aggressor and much more concerned about a militarized foreign policy that overreacts to every possible danger.

Foaming is a huge reward

April 18th, 2021

As Charles Duhigg explains in The Power of Habit, the tingling sensation from Pepsodent helped turn toothbrushing into a habit:

Yet, while everyone brushes their teeth, fewer than 10 percent of Americans apply sunscreen each day. Why?

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Because there’s no craving that has made sunscreen into a daily habit. Some companies are trying to fix that by giving sunscreens a tingling sensation or something that lets people know they’ve applied it to their skin.

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“Foaming is a huge reward,” said Sinclair, the brand manager. “Shampoo doesn’t have to foam, but we add foaming chemicals because people expect it each time they wash their hair. Same thing with laundry detergent. And toothpaste — now every company adds sodium laureth sulfate to make toothpaste foam more. There’s no cleaning benefit, but people feel better when there’s a bunch of suds around their mouth. Once the customer starts expecting that foam, the habit starts growing.”

The real insidiousness of it is its unmistakably hypnotic structure and pacing

April 17th, 2021

An anonymous commenter on 4chan noticed that John Oliver’s show has a disturbing structure:

The subject of John Oliver came up when a colleague (fellow psychologist) and I were discussing politics a few months ago. Although we were both in agreement regarding the general shitlib inanity of the HBO show, my friend was surprised when I explained that the real insidiousness of it is its unmistakably hypnotic structure and pacing.

I ended up pulling up an episode or two off of YouTube to show her what I meant. All of the segments I’ve ever seen from this show follow the same repetitive format: present some “argumentation” and “facts” for about 10 seconds, then quickly follow these up with a snarky quip (which themselves overwhelmingly take the form of complete non-sequitur or otherwise absurd metaphor) before any rational processing of the preceding argument can take place in the mind of the viewer. Further telling is that the only “beats” or mental pauses in the show’s pacing exist solely to highlight the approving laughter or applause of the studio audience. Repeat this basic formula without variation 20–40 times in a row and you have one of the 12–20 minute “segments” that form the backbone of the show.

The end effect is (obviously) not to deliver information, but rather to literally teach the viewers on a subconscious level to mentally associate derisive laughter with any person or opinion that is at odds with the narrative’s take on the chosen issue. And it accomplishes this by maintaining a strict adherence to a roughly 20-second cycle in which a stimulus is presented, and a response is cued. This is the sense in which the show is fundamentally hypnotic in effect even moreso than its precursors in the genre (Daily Show, Colbert, etc).

To my mind, Oliver’s show is representative of the media’s increasing mastery of the methodologies of mass conditioning; in fact it is almost such a perfect technical accomplishment that I would almost have to admire it on technical grounds, which moreover is in the hands of the entirely wrong people.

No one craves scentlessness

April 16th, 2021

In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg tells the story of a chemist at P&G who was working with hydroxypropyl beta cyclodextrin, or HPBCD, at the lab, and when he came home, his wife asked if he’d stopped smoking, because his clothes didn’t smell like smoke at all. The new product they developed was a huge success — but only after they learned how to market it:

They spent millions perfecting the formula, finally producing a colorless, odorless liquid that could wipe out almost any foul odor.

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They decided to call it Febreze, and asked Stimson, a thirty-one-year-old wunderkind with a background in math and psychology, to lead the marketing team.

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The same pattern played out in dozens of other smelly homes the researchers visited. People couldn’t detect most of the bad smells in their lives. If you live with nine cats, you become desensitized to their scent. If you smoke cigarettes, it damages your olfactory capacities so much that you can’t smell smoke anymore. Scents are strange; even the strongest fade with constant exposure. That’s why no one was using Febreze, Stimson realized.

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Television commercials were filmed of women spraying freshly made beds and spritzing just-laundered clothing. The tagline had been “Gets bad smells out of fabrics.” It was rewritten as “Cleans life’s smells.”

Each change was designed to appeal to a specific, daily cue: Cleaning a room. Making a bed. Vacuuming a rug. In each one, Febreze was positioned as the reward: the nice smell that occurs at the end of a cleaning routine. Most important, each ad was calibrated to elicit a craving: that things will smell as nice as they look when the cleaning ritual is done.

The irony is that a product manufactured to destroy odors was transformed into the opposite. Instead of eliminating scents on dirty fabrics, it became an air freshener used as the finishing touch, once things are already clean.

When the researchers went back into consumers’ homes after the new ads aired and the redesigned bottles were given away, they found that some housewives in the test market had started expecting — craving — the Febreze scent.

One woman said that when her bottle ran dry, she squirted diluted perfume on her laundry. “If I don’t smell something nice at the end, it doesn’t really seem clean now,” she told them.

“The park ranger with the skunk problem sent us in the wrong direction,” Stimson told me. “She made us think that Febreze would succeed by providing a solution to a problem. But who wants to admit their house stinks?

“We were looking at it all wrong. No one craves scentlessness. On the other hand, lots of people crave a nice smell after they’ve spent thirty minutes cleaning.”

New habits are created by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.

Administrative assistants did not do management, but managers did do administration

April 15th, 2021

Has the economic clock started to run backwards?, Tim Harford asks:

As Philip Coggan writes in his epic history, More: The 10,000 Year Rise of the World Economy, Smith’s 1776 book was not the first to note the productivity gains that resulted from specialisation. Xenophon was making similar remarks in 370 BCE.

But why does the division of labour improve productivity? Smith pointed to three advantages: workers perfected specific skills; they avoided the delay and distraction of switching from one task to another; and they would use or even invent specialised equipment.

The modern knowledge worker fits uneasily into this picture. Most of us don’t use specialised equipment: we use computers capable of doing anything from accountancy and instant messaging to filming and editing video. And while some office jobs have a clear production flow, many do not: they are a watercolour blur of one activity bleeding into another.

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In 1992 the economist Peter Sassone published a study of workflow in large US corporate offices. He found that the more senior a person was, the more likely they were to do a bit of everything. Administrative assistants did not do management, but managers did do administration. Sassone called this “the law of diminishing specialisation”.

This law of diminishing specialisation is surely stronger today. Computers have made it easier to create and circulate written messages, to book travel, to design web pages. Instead of increasing productivity, these tools tempt highly skilled, highly paid people to noodle around making bad slides.

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Cal Newport’s new book, A World Without Email, is searing on this point. Examining scientific management studies from the early 20th century, Newport makes the case that manufacturers analysed and fixed their aimless processes a century ago. The gains were dramatic. For example: at the Pullman factory complex near Chicago, people from various departments would wander into the brass works and pester the metalworkers until they got what they needed. After a systematic overhaul, many clerks were hired as gatekeepers and to plan and schedule work. Productivity soared.

Newport argues that knowledge work is long overdue a similar rethink. How often is office work assigned and prioritised by random pestering? Certain disciplines, including producing a daily newspaper, have developed a clear workflow that doesn’t depend on long email chains. A lot of knowledge work, however, is still in the “wander in and pester” stage.

You’ll feel a film

April 14th, 2021

In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg shares some advertising history:

Hopkins was the man who had convinced Americans to buy Schlitz beer by boasting that the company cleaned their bottles “with live steam,” while neglecting to mention that every other company used the exact same method.

He had seduced millions of women into purchasing Palmolive soap by proclaiming that Cleopatra had washed with it, despite the sputtering protests of outraged historians.

He had made Puffed Wheat famous by saying that it was “shot from guns” until the grains puffed “to eight times normal size.”

He had turned dozens of previously unknown products — Quaker Oats, Goodyear tires, the Bissell carpet sweeper, Van Camp’s pork and beans — into household names.

And in the process, he had made himself so rich that his best-selling autobiography, My Life in Advertising, devoted long passages to the difficulties of spending so much money.

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Throughout his career, one of Claude Hopkins’s signature tactics was to find simple triggers to convince consumers to use his products every day. He sold Quaker Oats, for instance, as a breakfast cereal that could provide energy for twenty-four hours — but only if you ate a bowl every morning. He hawked tonics that cured stomachaches, joint pain, bad skin, and “womanly problems” — but only if you drank the medicine at symptoms’ first appearance. Soon, people were devouring oatmeal at daybreak and chugging from little brown bottles whenever they felt a hint of fatigue, which, as luck would have it, often happened at least once a day.

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“Just run your tongue across your teeth,” read one. “You’ll feel a film — that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.”

“Note how many pretty teeth are seen everywhere,” read another ad, featuring smiling beauties. “Millions are using a new method of teeth cleansing. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth? Pepsodent removes the film!”

The brilliance of these appeals was that they relied upon a cue — tooth film — that was universal and impossible to ignore. Telling someone to run their tongue across their teeth, it turned out, was likely to cause them to run their tongue across their teeth. And when they did, they were likely to feel a film. Hopkins had found a cue that was simple, had existed for ages, and was so easy to trigger that an advertisement could cause people to comply automatically.

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Before Pepsodent appeared, only 7 percent of Americans had a tube of toothpaste in their medicine chests. A decade after Hopkins’s ad campaign went nationwide, that number had jumped to 65 percent.

There’s a bit more to the story:

Unlike other pastes of the period, Pepsodent contained citric acid, as well as doses of mint oil and other chemicals. Pepsodent’s inventor used those ingredients to make the toothpaste taste fresh, but they had another, unanticipated effect as well. They’re irritants that create a cool, tingling sensation on the tongue and gums.

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What they found was that customers said that if they forgot to use Pepsodent, they realized their mistake because they missed that cool, tingling sensation in their mouths. They expected — they craved — that slight irritation.

SARS-CoV-2 is a sort of zombie virus

April 13th, 2021

Athena Aktipis and Joe Alcock suggest that SARS-CoV-2 is a sort of zombie virus, turning people not into the undead but rather into the unsick:

People typically think of zombies as the stuff of science fiction. But in the biological world, zombies are all over the place, from the Ophiocordyceps fungus that perpetuates itself by zombifying ants; to Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite that completes its life cycle by leading rodents into the jaws of predators. Zombie viruses are also a real thing, influencing their host’s behavior in ways that enhance the viruses’ evolutionary fitness.

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About 40% of those with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic spreaders, never showing symptoms at all. And those who do show symptoms are most contagious in the two days before symptoms appear. Why people don’t feel sick earlier – or sick at all – might be part of the evolutionary strategy of SARS-CoV-2.

A look under the hood of the virus reveals more about that manipulative machinery. SARS-CoV-2 interferes with a person’s immune response; this is why people don’t necessarily feel sick and withdrawn as they would in a typical viral infection. Instead, SARS-CoV-2 silences the body’s alarm signals that otherwise would orchestrate anti-viral defenses. It blocks interferons, a set of molecules that help fight viruses. Interferon activity makes people feel more depressed and socially withdrawn – so when the novel coronanvirus impedes interferon activity, mood is lifted, sociality is increased and you feel less sick.

The virus also decreases pain perception. Normally, pain motivates us to hunker down when we need to heal. But SARS-CoV-2 blocks this response by preventing the transmission of pain signals. This is why people feel fine even when they are teeming with virus before the onset of symptoms.

At the same time, SARS-CoV-2 dampens the body’s response to infection. It hinders pro-inflammatory cytokines, molecules that help spur the immune response. This too makes hosts feel better than they should. Typically, feeling sick helps our bodies prioritize healing by making us reduce our energy expenditure. With SARS-CoV-2, unsick hosts have the energy to do as much as they used to, maybe more.

Habits never really disappear

April 12th, 2021

One of the central ideas that Charles Duhigg explains in The Power of Habit is the habit loop:

To deal with this uncertainty, the brain spends a lot of effort at the beginning of a habit looking for something — a cue — that offers a hint as to which pattern to use.

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And at the end of the activity, when the reward appears, the brain shakes itself awake and makes sure everything unfolded as expected.

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First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future:

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The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

Habit Loop

Habits never really disappear.

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In one set of experiments, for example, researchers affiliated with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism trained mice to press levers in response to certain cues until the behavior became a habit. The mice were always rewarded with food.

Then, the scientists poisoned the food so that it made the animals violently ill, or electrified the floor, so that when the mice walked toward their reward they received a shock. The mice knew the food and cage were dangerous — when they were offered the poisoned pellets in a bowl or saw the electrified floor panels, they stayed away.

When they saw their old cues, however, they unthinkingly pressed the lever and ate the food, or they walked across the floor, even as they vomited or jumped from the electricity. The habit was so ingrained the mice couldn’t stop themselves.

Although ice might seem simple, it is complicated stuff

April 11th, 2021

Regular six-sided crystals of ice are actually just one of ice’s many forms, or polymorphs, the form known as ice 1. Now ice 19 has been discovered:

Although ice might seem simple, it is complicated stuff. For instance, only the oxygen atoms in the water molecules of six-sided ice crystals form a hexagonal shape, while their hydrogen atoms are randomly oriented around them. This makes ice I a “disordered” or “frustrated” ice in the terminology of ices. One of the properties of such disordered ices is that they can deform under pressure: “This is the reason why glaciers flow,” Loerting said.

In contrast, the hydrogen atoms in several of the other polymorphs of ice also have their own crystal patterns, and they are called “hydrogen-ordered” or “H-ordered” as a result. Unlike disordered ices, H-ordered ices are very brittle and will shatter, rather than deform, he said.

In those terms, the newly identified 19th form of ice is an H-ordered ice; in fact, it’s an H-ordered form of a disordered ice, called ice VI, which has a random pattern of hydrogen atoms. And ice VI also has yet another H-ordered polymorph, ice XV, in which the hydrogen atoms are aligned in an entirely different pattern.

“Ice VI, ice XV and ice XIX are all very similar in terms of density [because] they share the same kind of network of oxygen atoms,” Loerting said. “But they differ in terms of the positions of hydrogen atoms.” It’s the first time that such a relationship between ice polymorphs has been discovered, and it could allow experiments to study transitions between one form and another, he said.

Naturally this reminded me of ice-nine, from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle:

Ice-nine is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature and acts as a seed crystal upon contact with ordinary liquid water, causing that liquid water to instantly transform into more ice-nine.

No one wondered how a man who couldn’t draw a map of his home was able to find the bathroom without hesitation

April 10th, 2021

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg tells the story of a man who lost his ability to form new memories:

The scans indicated that almost all the damage within Eugene’s skull was limited to a five-centimeter area near the center of his head. The virus had almost entirely destroyed his medial temporal lobe, a sliver of cells which scientists suspected was responsible for all sorts of cognitive tasks such as recall of the past and the regulation of some emotions.

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At the time, no one wondered how a man who couldn’t draw a map of his home was able to find the bathroom without hesitation.

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She asked him to point out which doorway led to the kitchen. Eugene looked around the room. He didn’t know, he said. She asked Eugene what he would do if he were hungry. He stood up, walked into the kitchen, opened a cabinet, and took down a jar of nuts.

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As they rounded the corner near his house, the visitor asked Eugene where he lived. “I don’t know, exactly,” he said. Then he walked up his sidewalk, opened his front door, went into the living room, and turned on the television.

He couldn’t form “real” memories, but he could form habits.

This division of powers between the federal government and the central bank is what keeps the money supply relatively stable

April 9th, 2021

Printing money requires both nuclear keys:

The Federal Reserve can create new base money, but doesn’t have a mechanism to spend it into the real economy. The Treasury, on the other hand, can spend money on behalf of Congress, but has to issue bonds to do it, which sucks money out from somewhere else in the economy. In other words, the Treasury mostly just moves money around. This division of powers between the federal government and the central bank is what keeps the money supply relatively stable during most times in history, and leaves money creation mostly to the commercial bank system.

However, the combination of the Treasury and Federal Reserve working in concert results in a sharp rise in the broad money supply. With this approach, the Treasury spends money into the economy at a massive scale, and the bonds that are issued to pay for it are bought by the Federal Reserve with brand new base money, resulting in outright broad money creation. This close collaboration between the Treasury and the Federal Reserve occurred in the 1940s, and began occurring again in 2020.

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During the subprime mortgage crisis, the Federal Reserve rapidly expanded the monetary base, but the Treasury’s response was more modest. If we continue with the nuclear key analogy for money-printing, only the Federal Reserve’s key was used. The Treasury did not use their key back then; little money was handed out to the broad economy.

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Banks went into the 2008 crisis woefully under-capitalized, much like 1929. In response to a systemic failure of the banking system in 2008, the Federal Reserve created trillions of dollars of new base money to buy some of their assets, in a process referred to as quantitative easing. Additionally, fiscal bills removed troubled assets from bank balance sheets and provided very modest aid to the public. There was, however, no broad bailout of homeowners or other members of the general public other than for relatively small programs like “cash for clunkers”, and this dichotomy of bailing out Wall Street more than Main Street contributed to the rise of both left-leaning and right-leaning populist movements, ranging from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party.

All of this new base money in 2008, in other words, mostly remained in the banking system to recapitalize the banks and to decrease leverage ratios. As a result, the broad money supply didn’t spike at all, since people were not getting stimulus checks and there was no massive fiscal policy response.

Fast-forward to 2020, we went into this pandemic crisis with very different circumstances. Banks were well-capitalized this time from a combination of prior bailouts, leverage regulations, and more risk-averse lending behavior. Indeed, the banking system had plenty of excess reserves going into this crisis.

Instead, the economic shock came directly to consumers and businesses, and the fiscal response of providing stimulus checks, federal unemployment benefits, small business loans that mostly turn into grants, and a variety of other forms of aid, directly increased the broad money supply. Finishing with the analogy, both “keys” were initiated in 2020; the Federal Reserve created even more base money than before, and unlike 2008, the Treasury also sent out massive checks to inject it into the broad money supply, with massive fiscal deficit levels as a percentage of GDP that had not been seen since the 1940s.

Once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work

April 8th, 2021

Charles Duhigg first became interested in the science of habits — interested enough to go on to write The Power of Habit — as a news reporter in Baghdad:

The U.S. military, it occurred to me as I watched it in action, is one of the biggest habit-formation experiments in history.

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I had been in Iraq for about two months when I heard about an officer conducting an impromptu habit modification program in Kufa, a small city ninety miles south of the capital. He was an army major who had analyzed videotapes of recent riots and had identified a pattern: Violence was usually preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza or other open space and, over the course of several hours, growing in size. Food vendors would show up, as well as spectators. Then, someone would throw a rock or a bottle and all hell would break loose.

When the major met with Kufa’s mayor, he made an odd request: Could they keep food vendors out of the plazas? Sure, the mayor said. A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near the Masjid al-Kufa, or Great Mosque of Kufa. Throughout the afternoon, it grew in size. Some people started chanting angry slogans. Iraqi police, sensing trouble, radioed the base and asked U.S. troops to stand by. At dusk, the crowd started getting restless and hungry. People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza, but there were none to be found. The spectators left. The chanters became dispirited. By 8 P.M., everyone was gone.

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At boot camp, he had absorbed habits for loading his weapon, falling asleep in a war zone, maintaining focus amid the chaos of battle, and making decisions while exhausted and overwhelmed. He had attended classes that taught him habits for saving money, exercising each day, and communicating with bunkmates. As he moved up the ranks, he learned the importance of organizational habits in ensuring that subordinates could make decisions without constantly asking permission, and how the right routines made it easier to work alongside people he normally couldn’t stand.

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“Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army,” the major told me. “It’s changed everything about how I see the world. You want to fall asleep fast and wake up feeling good? Pay attention to your nighttime patterns and what you automatically do when you get up. You want to make running easy? Create triggers to make it a routine. I drill my kids on this stuff. My wife and I write out habit plans for our marriage. This is all we talk about in command meetings. Not one person in Kufa would have told me that we could influence crowds by taking away the kebab stands, but once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.”

One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly

April 7th, 2021

In Hunt, Gather, Parent, Michaeleen Doucleff explains what ancient cultures can teach us about the lost art of raising happy, helpful little humans:

“Our culture often has things backward when it comes to kids,” she writes.

Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.

One of the craziest things we do, she notes, is praise children constantly:

When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!”

This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.

It’s hard to cut back on praise, because it’s so baked in, but later on, I decided to try. It’s not that there’s no feedback, but it’s much gentler feedback—parents will smile or nod if a child is doing something they want. I started doing that, and Rosy’s behavior really improved. A lot of the attention-seeking behavior went away.

Policemen were also needed

April 6th, 2021

From the Korean War, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the United States drew troubled conclusions:

American policy had been to contain Communism along the parallel, and in this, American policy succeeded. But no one realized, at the beginning, how exceedingly costly such containment would be. The war reaffirmed in American minds the distaste for land warfare on the continent of Asia the avoidance of which has always been a foundation of United States policy. But the war proved that containment in Asia could not be forged with nuclear bombs and that threats were not enough, unless the United States intended to answer a Communist pinprick with general holocaust.

Yet the American people, Army, and leaders generally proved unwilling to accept wars of policy in lieu of crusades against Communism. Innocence had been lost, but the loss was denied. The government that had ordered troops into Korea knew that the issue was never whether Syngman Rhee was right or wrong but that his loss would adversely affect the status of the United States — which was not arguable.

That government’s inability to communicate, and its repudiation at the polls, firmly convinced many men of the political dangers of committing American ground troops in wars of containment. Yet without the continual employment of limited force around the glove, or even with it, there was to be no order. The World could not be policed with ships, planes, and bombs — policemen were also needed.

Less than a year after fighting ended in Korea, Vietnam was lost to the West, largely because of the complete repugnance of Americans toward committing a quarter of a million ground troops in another apparently indecisive skirmish with Communism. Even more important, the United States, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported, simply did not have the troops.

Korea, from Task Force Smith at Osan to the last days at Pork Chop, indicates that the policy of containment cannot be implemented without professional legions. Yet every democratic government is reluctant to face the fact. Reservists and citizen-soldiers stand ready, n every free nation, to stand to the colors and die in holocaust, the big war. Reservists and citizen-soldiers remain utterly reluctant to stand and die in anything less. None want to serve on the far frontiers, or to maintain lonely, dangerous vigils on the periphery of Asia. There has been every indication that mass call-ups for cold war moves may result in mass disaffection.

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However repugnant the idea is to liberal societies, the man who will willingly defend the free world in the fringe areas is not the responsible citizen-soldier. The man who will go where his colors go, without asking, who will fight a phantom foe in jungle and mountain range, without counting, and who will suffer and die in the midst of incredible hardship, without complaint, is still what he has always been, from Imperial Rome to sceptered Britain to democratic America. He is the stuff of which legion are made.

His pride is in his colors and his regiment, his training hard and thorough and coldly realistic, to fit him for what he must face, and his obedience is to his orders. As a legionary, he held the gates of civilization for the classical world; as a bluecoated horseman he swept the Indians from the Plains; he has been called United States Marine. He does the jobs — the utterly necessary jobs — no militia is willing to do. His task is moral or immoral according to the orders that send him forth. It is inevitable, since men compete.

Since the dawn of time, men have competed with each other — with clubs, crossbows, or cannon, dollars, ballots, and trading stamps. Much of mankind, of course, abhors competition, and these remain the acted upon, not the actors.

Anyone who says there will be no competition in the future simply does not understand the nature of man.

The great dilemma of our time is that, with two great power blocs in the world, each utterly distrustful of the other, and one, at least, eager to compete, we cannot compete with thermonuclear weapons. Competition, after all, is controlled action or controlled violence for an end, and nuclear weapons do not lend themselves to control. And in nuclear war there is apparently no prize, even for first place.

Yet men must compete.