Situational Awareness: Part 5 – Critical Thinking

Part of good Situational Awareness (SA) requires the ability to recognize valid (i.e. true) information. We already know that your SA requires you to establish a baseline and then watch for deviations from that baseline. When you start to see deviations from the baseline then you have to pay particular attention to those events/activities as compared to the baseline.  Once those deviations have been assessed then you have to decide what action is required, if any, to mitigate the potential increased risk or threat.

Without a baseline and the ability to appropriately assess deviations you can be considered “clueless.” Yes, that is a technical term in the SA world! In the world of emergency preparedness, clueless can be fatal. But just as important as part of SA is the ability to take action based on the baseline and deviations thereof. Without being able to take the appropriate action in a timely manner you are not only clueless, but probably dead or badly injured. All parts of SA must work together in synchronization.

The very beginning of the SA process requires a baseline as mentioned. Our baseline in anything will come from a combination of factors; training, experience, culture, and bias just to name a few. All of these, and more, work together in your brain to form a baseline regardless of the situation or environment.

Next comes the ability to correctly recognize and assess sensory input. Sensory input can come in a variety of forms; smell, sight, or words to name a few. For this discussion I want to focus on words. More aptly stated I want to work on discerning messages and evaluating their truthfulness.

A good example would be a statement by a government official…is it true or false…or worse, a deliberate lie. It is vitally important to know the difference between false information and a lie. Both are not “truth” in any possible sense of the word. However, false information and a lie are not equal in weight when it comes to SA. Specifically, it is absolutely significant in terms of action to be taken. The degree of the underlying lack of truth will determine the degree, or severity, that your action will be.

By that I mean that in an emergency, disaster, or grid-down event false information can simply be a mistake in knowing or understanding the facts. A lie however, is a deliberate and intentional statement to misdirect and control you.

Another way to look at it, false information can be seen as ignorance (not knowing the facts). There are also some that would call false information as an attempt to withhold pertinent information while not specifically lying, and yet not being ignorant.

While confusing, it might be easier to look at it in this fashion; lying is done with malice. However, false information is usually as a result of ignorance or simply wanting to gain an advantage without the intention of malice. And malice, for this discussion is meant in terms of doing harm against the message recipient (i.e. stealing, injury, death. Control, etc.).

If I don’t have you completely confused by now, let me try harder. Example: Mohamed Saeed al-Sahhaf was the Iraqi Information Minister under Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. He was comically referred to as “Baghdad Bob” during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Bob would hold press conferences that spoke eloquently of how Iraqi forces where decimating US and Allied troops. This would go on day after day, sometimes multiple times per day. Why did he garner his nickname? Because everything that Mohamed was utterly untrue, simply nowhere near reality.

For anyone in the US it was easy to know that what he was saying was silly and absurd. Was this false information or a lie?

Here is where the real discussion takes place. The information was without question absolutely false. There is no wiggle room in that point. Once we know it was false information now we have to know his intention. For that you ask, “Why was he doing it?”

I doubt seriously that he was trying to trick the US. But, if not us, then who? I propose it was meant to trick and mislead the Iraqi military forces. If they felt they were wining they would fight and do so with confidence. If they knew they were losing, and were getting no information to the contrary, then morale would sag and troops would give up. If the troops gave up then Iraq loses the war, and that leads to Saddam Hussein losing power.  But…we are not done yet.

Let’s for the sake of this discussion assume that the troops believed what he was saying and fought on. Would more troops die than if they had given up right then and there? The answer is obviously yes, more troops would die on both sides. Therefore, what Baghdad Bob was doing was lying. His intention, implicit or explicit, was more death and carnage. He lied, and people died.

That is a real-life example of the difference between false information and lying…it is called intention.

Well, if that is the difference, how do you tell the difference between lying and false information?

Bingo! That is the point.. However, to truly drive the point home, to bring it to full light I feel I have to raise emotions. If not, the full understanding will be missed. So please bear with me. I am going to take a hot button subject and use it to show the difference between false information and lying. I am going to use examples, two of which are going to be in regards to Islam.

Now, for those whose blood pressure just went up, relax. This is not going to be an argument whether Islam is this or that, I will just use arguments on both sides to show false information vs. lies. And to use reason, logic, and facts in the process.

Islamic Terrorist hit again!

The United States suffered another terrorist attack, this time in San Bernardino in 2015. The terrorists who attacked a Christmas party were Muslim. That is an established fact, it is 100% truth. So the term “Muslim terrorist” is also 100% true. That is Philosophy 101 level logic based statement.

However, you have some that say Islam is a religion of violence, hate, terrorism.  They will then say that Islam itself is “terrorist” because all terrorism appears to be coming from Muslims.

The FBI defines “International terrorism” as activities with the following three characteristics:

  1. Involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  2. Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
  3. Occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.

We will use that definition and refer to it as simply “terrorism” for this discussion. And I am sure we can agree that the San Bernardino attack was terrorism.

Back to our Muslim terrorist statement, let’s test that for truth.

  1. Are all terrorists Islamic? Currently, the answer for some would be a resounding yes in as much as by statistics the largest number of terrorist attacks in the world right now are being committed by Muslims, and San Bernardino was for sure.
  2. Therefore, since all (or at least the vast majority) terrorism is being committed by members of Islam, and all members of Islam are Muslims, then all Muslims are terrorists.

Is that a true, or accurate, resulting statement? Let’s not worry about the answer just yet. Let’s test the statement itself, “Therefore, since all (or at least the vast majority) terrorism is being committed by members of Islam, and all members of Islam are Muslims, then all Muslims are terrorists.”

We can test that easily enough, do all Muslims commit terrorist acts? The answer is obviously no. Therefore, Islam by default is not a terrorist organization. I will even take it a step further and say that some Muslims are good people, but that is simply opinion since that is a subjective statement relative to my baseline. However, that also can’t produce a statement of truth, “Since some Muslims are good, then Islam is good.”

Where am I going with all of this? We need to have the tools to assess not just the truth of statements but what it means in relationship to ourselves. In other words, how does it impact us.

Let’s take the two opposing sides in one aspect of the Islam is bad argument:

  • Islam is bad, evil, and satanic creating terror around the world. Muslims are evil people and we must punish them.
  • Islam is a religion of peace and love. The terrorists are, and violence is being committed by, Muslims that are not practicing their faith. They are just evil people not Muslims.

So which is true?

I could by-pass a lot of discussion and ask a simple question, “What does each side gain by their position?”

  • The “Islam is bad” crowd probably wants war and a scapegoat for all the problems in the world.
  • The “Islam is peace” Muslim crowd wants the focus off themselves and their entire religion to not be held accountable.
  • The extremely vocal “Islam is peace” non-Muslim crowd is usually just full of vanity and self-aggrandizing.

All three sides have a lot to gain, all have significant self-interest. However, that self-interest must be considered in determining “truth.” And that doesn’t even begin to cover things such as bias.

So let’s test some more details of each side’s arguments.

  1. One side says Mohammad was a pedophile.
  2. The other side says that is not true and become enraged at the accusation.

Now, here is where it can get ugly…

A person trying to make Islam to be evil would say something like, “If the founder of Islam was evil because he was a pedophile, then the religion of Islam is evil. And if Islam is evil then Muslims must be evil.”

However, once again, that is an untrue statement using logic and fact. For it to be true, all Muslims must also be pedophiles. And we know that isn’t true, by anecdotal evidence and also Muslim religious and judicial guidelines in-place today saying that they cannot marry until a girl is at least in puberty.

Therefore that proves that not all Muslims are evil. Do some Muslims qualify as pedophiles? Are some Muslims criminals because they commit sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children? I cannot provide evidence or statistics to prove that point. Regardless of Mohammad’s standing as a pedophile or not, that alone does not make Islam or all Muslims pedophiles.

So when you hear statements, such as #1 & #2 above, you can’t simply make a snap decision and be assured of your accuracy. You must actually research the issue and know what you are talking about. Or you risk using false information or lies in your SA process. Doing so in emergencies, disasters, or grid-down events can then easily lead to making poor, maybe fatal, decisions based on faulty assumptions which was based on false information or lies.

But we still have the “action” aspect of the SA process I’ve been talking about. If you then take action, what are you taking action on…or for what reasons?

Based on the example statements, what action would or should you take?

My suggestions would be…virtually no action needs to be taken. And that is based on the amount of risk or threat to you if either statement is true or false.

What do I mean by that?

Statement #1 (One side says Mohammad was a pedophile.), even if it is true, so what? Does it require any action on your part? No. Plain and simple, no.

Statement #2 (The other side says that is not true and become enraged at the accusation.), if it was proven to be a lie, what threat or risk is there to you or your family? None. Plain and simple, none.

But, what it does mean to me (or you) is…if a person tries to advocate for Statement #2. I need to be cautious. Why? If a person is perpetuating that lie, they are then a liar and not to be trusted.

There is an exception to that conclusion. If statement #1 was true in your mind but a person can provide sufficient evidence that a reasonable person would believe that Mohammad wasn’t a pedophile, then you need to change your opinion. But, the evidence provided must pass a simple test – it must negate all the evidence you used proving to yourself that Mohammad was a pedophile.

An example of that would be definitive proof that A’isha lied when she said she was 6 when married to Mahmoud, then 9 when forced to have sex with him. That might be difficult, remember her own story in her own words was recorded by eleven authorities. Or, the writings/narrations, written in their holy book must be proven to have been fraudulently recorded. OK, you get the idea on that burden of proof.

But here is a problem, A’isha herself told the story of her and Mohammad, and that story was recorded as truth many times in their holy books. If someone in present day claims that it isn’t true, you would have to naturally ask, “How can a person 1400 years after the fact claim to know more than actual written history recorded multiple times by multiple people who lived it?”

And then you have to bring into the equation that no recognized or credible Islamic scholar or historian raised any red flag over the story of A’isha prior to some modern-day claim of fraud. Why would that be? If it was a lie and a fraudulent story, wouldn’t someone have objected to it being in their holy books in the first 100, 500, or 1000 years after it was written? Why would someone just bring it up in modern times and expect to have any credibility?

Now, there is a more actionable point. If a person tries to claim a different truth, a different factual history, now…ask yourself “Why now and why him?” That is far more important question to answer before you delve into the truthfulness of his claims. You must know “intent” first.

Until you can be convinced otherwise you would be well suited to view that person who is making the claim to be either providing false information due to ignorance, or lying for more malevolent purposes. And you maintain that position until he can prove to you otherwise.

Personal note: I don’t care who Mohammad was or is. Yes,I feel sorry for that little girl, but it happened a long time ago. I don’t judge Islam or Muslims based on Mohammad’s pedophile status or what he did to that little girl. I don’t judge, or at least I shouldn’t judge, one Muslim based on what another Muslim does. What I do care about it the content of a person’s character. If a Muslim, like any other person, lives a decent life and doesn’t hurt others, then they are okay in my book. In today’s world it is easy to be calloused about Muslims and view them as a single group. I urge you not to. Sure, logic and prudence does whisper some caution, but it doesn’t justify bias, prejudice, or bigotry.

Good SA requires the ability to think through all informational input. And you must be able to analyze it with facts and logic. Then, act only if the outcome, or potential outcome, requires it.

And beware of arguments filled with emotions. A solid position based on fact and logic needs no emotion. Emotion is meant to win an argument with little or no fact, without logic, and mostly upon the art of persuasion touching a person’s feelings.

Should that fail, some weak minded people may use “deflection” as a tactic. This is most often used when a person knows their position is without merit, wholly or partially, and uses something else to draw away attention. Example: Christians killed more people than Muslims.

In that argument they are trying to use a moral equivalent to justify their position. But use reason in relationship to your baseline…Christians killing people in the name of their religion or their god is just as evil as Muslims killing people in the name of their religion or their god. They are trying to justify or overshadow one evil act with another. When in fact, both acts are evil. But the person that makes that argument is unable to see the difference, approves of both, or simply can’t make the mental effort to understand the fallacy of the argument they are making.

You will also see some individuals that will use emotion, and when that attempt fails the person will then sometimes fall back to attacking the opposing person personally without the use of facts, reasoning, and logic. It becomes a personal attack vs. a discussion or debate.  Those tactics can be read about in a book called Rules for Radical by Sal Alinsky. The book ironically enough is dedicated to Satan.

Concluding…SA is essential to emergency preparedness. You must be able to recognize truth, false statements, and lies. If you don’t develop that skill set you will not be able to accurately assess information that you are receiving. And that will lead to poor decision making. And poor decision making could easily lead to injury or death through bad actions or lack of action. Us critical thinking skills…think it through…test all statements for logic and reason…and most of all, intent.

 

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