Tag Archives: War

Listen — Let It Swirl Around Your Head, Then Form Your Opinion

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of people make a lot of different arguments about why they support/oppose intervening in Syria. Of all the arguments I’ve heard, the ones that irritate me the most: “I’m a Democrat/liberal and Pres. Obama thinks we should go to Syria, so I think we have to intervene.” OR “I’m a Republican/conservative and we can’t give Pres. Obama what he wants, so we shouldn’t intervene.” Both of these arguments (and the many derivatives thereof) are quite frankly, awful. They’re just awful.

Basing your opinion on a label like Democrat or a label like Republican is so near-sighted. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about labels for political ideologies and parties. In that post, I linked to a video from Chris Rock talking about political ideologies and parties. The video has since been taken down, but I did find a few other versions of it (here, here, and here). My purpose in sharing this clip is not because I want you to change your mind and support intervening or change your mind and not support intervening, no. It’s because I want you to make up your mind for yourself.

As I said a few days ago, it’s difficult to know when being in the minority is the right thing to do. It’s even harder to know if that’s right when you’re blindly following the opinion of someone else. So, take a minute (that’s the length of the clip!) and watch Chris Rock.

Warning: NSFW language!

Note: The title of this post is a line from the video.

Imagine If the USA Went to War… and No One Cared

While the title is a bit provocative, it’s not completely unsubstantiated. Right now in the United States, some veterans have waited over 600 days to hear back about their benefits… SIX HUNDRED DAYS! That’s almost two years. I shudder when people make the improper analogy between governments and businesses, but can you imagine what would happen if a business waiting 2 years to tell its employees about their benefits claims? These soldiers aren’t even the ones that are coming home right now. Logic would tell you that the veterans that are coming home today wouldn’t have to wait as long as those that have come before them… wrong. The wait time is getting longer.

I was born and raised in Canada, so my cultural perspective on joining the military and going to war is a bit different from someone who was born and raised in the United States. Nonetheless, I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the subject and the American culture’s beliefs about war and soldiers permeate… everything. The “Support our Troops” campaign was long-adopted in the USA before it was in Canada. Not to mention the way that war is glorified in TV, movies, and video games.

Given all of this, I can’t understand how a country like the United States would not properly care for their veterans returning home. It’s unfathomable. People give of their time (and become soldiers) only to return from war zones with injuries — both physical and mental. Isn’t it the obligation of the country to then properly care for those people? Shouldn’t people be chomping at the bit to help these people. These people who risked their lives for — presumably — the country’s freedoms (or to help another country assert its freedoms). Note: I realize that the last couple of sentences may spark conversation about foreign policy and the US as interventionists overseas, so I wanted to acknowledge it in this side note and redirect to the main point of taking proper care of veterans.

Last night, Rachel Maddow had on the CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of AmericaPaul Rieckhoff. He’s been on the program before, but last night seemed like a special interview. I’d urge you to watch it (couldn’t embed it on WordPress, so here’s the link: Veterans appeal to Obama to step in on VA backlog) and then do something about it! Tweet about it, email your member of Congress, email your Senator, call ’em, tell your friends, tell your family, shout it from the rooftops!

Ignore Sunk Costs: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 1

It can be really fun to write a series of posts on a particular topic. By my count, I’ve done this at least seven times so far. Today, I’d like to start what I hope will be an oft-read series on biases in judgment and decision-making (to some, cognitive biases). Because of my background in psychology and my interest in decision-making, I thought it would be wise to share with you the things that I’ve learned either through the classes I’ve taken (the classes I’ve taught!) or the research I’ve read. With each bias, my goal is to explain the bias and offer some possible avenues for not falling into the trap of the bias. Today, we start with one of the big ones: the sunk cost fallacy.

Sunk costs are those costs that have already happened and can’t be recovered. For instance, let’s say you buy an apple and bite into it. The money you used to buy that apple can’t be recovered — it’s a sunk cost. Now let’s say the apple doesn’t taste very good (maybe it’s inorganic). You might say, ‘well, I’ve already paid for the apple, so I might as well eat it.’ NO! That’s the sunk cost fallacy! Just because you’ve already bought the apple and paid for it, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. If it tastes bad, by golly, don’t eat it!

That’s a rather basic example of the sunk cost fallacy, so let’s look at one that might seem a bit more applicable. Sunk costs often come into the fray when they’re contrasted with future costs. Let’s say you’ve bought a subscription to a newspaper or a magazine. Because of your subscription, you get a discount when it’s time to renew your subscription. Now, let’s say that in that year of your subscription, you discovered that there was another newspaper/magazine that you preferred (maybe The Economist?). When it comes time to renew your subscription, you look at the two options to either subscribe to The Economist or continuing with your other subscription. You find out that the discounted price for your current newspaper/magazine will be the same price as The Economist. You say to yourself, “well, I’ve already subscribed to this newspaper and spent so much money on it, so I might as well keep subscribing to it.” NO! That’s the sunk cost fallacy. The money you’ve spent on the subscription for the other newspaper/magazine can’t be recovered! You can’t get it back. As a result, it shouldn’t affect the decision you make now about whether to choose it or The Economist

There’s one more quick example that I want to highlight: war. From a paper by a professor at Princeton:

The United States has invested much in attempting to achieve its objectives. In addition to the many millions of dollars that have been spent, many thousands of lives have been lost, and an even greater number of lives have been irreparably damaged. If the United States withdraws from Vietnam without achieving its objectives, then all of these undeniably significant sacrifices would be wasted. [Emphasis added]

Pay particular attention to that last sentence. That is the sunk cost fallacy in action.

Ways for Avoiding the Sunk Cost Fallacy

So, now that we’ve looked at the sunk cost fallacy, how can we avoid it? Well, the first step in avoiding the sunk cost fallacy is recognizing it. Hopefully, the above examples have given you an idea of how this bias can arise. There are a two other ways I want to highlight that you can use to avoid this trap.

1) What am I assuming?

The crux of the sunk cost fallacy is based on an assumption. That is, you’re assuming that because you’ve already spent money on X, that you should keep spending money on X. If you look at what it is that you’re assuming about a situation, you just might find that you’re about to step into the sunk cost trap.

2) Are there alternatives?

Related to the above example is alternatives. You’re not bound to a decision because you’ve made a similar decision in the past. Just because you bought the ticket to go to the movie, if another activity presents itself as more enticing, you’re allowed to choose that one instead. In fact, if when you sit down to watch the movie, it’s bad, you’re allowed to get up and walk out. Don’t fall into the sunk cost trap thinking that you have to stay because you paid for it. There are any number of things you could be doing: going for a walk, calling an old friend, etc.

More Lessons from “The Art of War”

A litte less than a week ago, I detailing some of the lessons (or quotes) that I pulled from The Art of War. At that point, I had only read through a little more than half of the 13 chapters. Today, I’ve only got about 3 more chapters to go, but I thought I’d add a post with some of the other lessons I thought were worth repeating.

From pages 126, 127 and 128 of Samuel Griffith’s translation (in 1963):

“When troops are strong and officers weak the army is insubordinate.”

“When the officers are valiant and the troops ineffective the army is in distress.”

“When the general is morally weak and his discipline not strict, when his instructions and guidance are not enlightened when there are no consistent rules to guide the officers and men when the formations are slovenly the army is in disorder.”

“When a commander is unable to estimate his enemy uses a small force to engage a large one, or weak troops to strike the strong, or when he fails to select shock troops for the van, the result is rout.”

“Conformation of the ground is of the greatest assistance in battle. Therefore, to estimate the enemy situation and to calculate distances and the degree of difficulty of the terrain so as to control victory are virtues of the superior general. He who fights with full knowledge of these factors is certain to win; he who does not will surely be defeated.”

Lessons from “The Art of War”

At the end of August, I thought I was going to be going on a road trip from DC to Newfoundland. In preparation for said road trip, I borrowed 9 books from the library. I’ll be talking about one of those books () when I write about The Stockdale Paradox, (which I teased in a post ).

One of the other books that I borrowed: “.”

It’s a book that has been around for ages and from what I understand, is often revered as scripture for some in the business world. As a result, I thought it would be good to read through it. Of course, to really savor its contents, it’ll be necessary to read it more than once.

I’m about two-thirds through it and I made a note of some interesting quotes that I thought would be worth sharing.

From page 73 of Samuel Griffith’s translation (in 1963):

“Thus, while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.”

“For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.”

From page 74:

“Where the army is, prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is exhausted. When wealth is exhausted the peasantry will be afflicted with urgent exactions.”

“With strength thus depleted and wealth consumed the households in the central plains will be utterly impoverished and seven-tenths of their wealth dissipated.”

“As to government expenditures, those due to broken-down chariots, worn-out horses, armour and helmets, arrows and crossbows, lances, hand and body shields, draft animals and supply wagons will amount to sixty per cent. of the total.”

I could most certainly attempt to draw comparisons between the US and quotes from page 74, but I don’t think that level of detail is necessary for the point I’m trying to make. I will say this, though: it is most certainly “” to consider the shape of war in 2012 in the context of these 5 quotes, which come from writings that are over 2000 years old.