Social Psychological Operations

The guy filling his 7-11 cup with coffee takes forever. We’ve seen him before. We sighed when we saw him at the back of the line. We know his routine at the machine. We know he has no social protocol and no courtesy. Is it narcissism, is he rude? In order to be rude, he must be inconsiderate, and to be inconsiderate, he has to consider those around him. As far as we can tell, he doesn’t even consider those around him. He fills his cup, and he tears open a sugar packet and pours without considering that he should take one step aside to do the latter.

Is this coffee drinker engaged in social psychological operations? Most people wouldn’t think so, because most people wouldn’t attach a military term to normal human interactions in such a way. Anyone who thinks this way may have too much time on their hands, they may think too much, and they might overanalyze simple situations too much. The question that believers would ask is how often do we get obliterated in the psychological field of battle without recognizing that a shot was even fired?

Most people don’t think waiting in line to fill your cup with coffee at a 7-11 involves a psychological battle. The simple act of dressing a fellow customer down, in a psychological manner, is just something we do without realizing it. Most people see interactions that may elicit nothing more than a “Hello” or “Excuse me” from the coffee filler as a forgettable moment in a day.

When our turn to fill a cup finally arrives, we might view the fidgeting, sighing person in line, behind us, as nothing more than an impatient customer of 7-11. We may view them as inconsiderate, and we may shoot them a ‘Who do you think you are?’ look to compensate for the momentary feelings of inferiority we may have experienced when the guy before us took too long. Some of us may attempt to diffuse the situation with a quasi-confrontational ‘How you doing?’ nod. For the most part, we might neglect to notice that we took as long as the guy before us. Are we as inconsiderate as that guy before us was? No, because in our subjective perspective, we wanted him to hurry up, so we could get our caffeine fix before on our drive to work, and those people behind us are just rude.

“Could you at least step aside to pour your sugar in, so we can get our coffee?” the guy behind us asks. Our first thought is that this guy is abnormally confrontational, and our next thought is that we’re going to use it on the guy who always does this to us. Some of us might even apply some objective realizations of our subjective perspective on that other guy, and that might even haunt us, until we put our key in the ignition and drive away from it all.

Regardless how these moments play out, there are often some sort of PSYCH OP (psychological operation) games at play in even the most mundane interactions.

The term PSYCH OP is most notably associated with military operations, but it could be said that we engage in various forms of psychological operations every day. For the purpose of distinguishing the two, we’ll call the latter social psych ops. This allows us to distinguish day-to-day, conversational psych ops from those psych ops that may eventuate in death.

If the impatient customer returns our ‘How you doing?’ nod, both parties have diffused the situation, and both combatants will move on with their day. There would be no points scored in this scenario, as there would be no games played, and that interaction would end in a zero-zero tie. Unless we happened to notice the clothes they were wearing, the manner in which they parted their hair, the way they tied their tie, the way they lick their lips before speaking, or the brand of coffee they chose. If we noticed any of the above, we did so to counter their brief evaluation of our character, and the points we gained by noticing their flaws are often innocuous, and they do little-to-nothing substantial for our psychology, and we forget all about them the moment our coffee cup is full, because the likelihood of running into this 7-11 customer again is negligible.

Most true points, scored in social psych OPS, involve remembering the points we score and using them in recurring interactions we have with people.

Let’s say that that ‘How you doing?’ nod involved someone at the office, getting coffee in the refreshment center of the office at the same time we do. Let’s say this person we encounter is not a total stranger, but one with whom we have an ongoing, work-related relationship. Let’s say the two combatants know a little something something about the other, but that they keep that information close to the vest. We may know some somethings about them, but we would consider it a violation of protocol to use that information against them. If that’s the case, a ‘How you doing?’ nod can take on altogether different meaning. It may begin in a benign manner, but it’s not as innocuous as our brief 7-11 interactions are. When they offer their ‘How you doing?’ nod to us, both parties flip the page of the playbook to a chapter where they begin speaking.

“I’m doing fine,” we say. “Thank you for asking.”

“That’s good to hear,” they may say. “How’s the wife?” This question right here taps into those something somethings that people have on each other, but we would never use on them. The question itself is strategically innocuous, as it is stated without intent, and it allows the attacker an out if the subject of their assault takes umbrage with the question and mounts a counter assault.

“Hey, I just asked how she was doing,” they may say to diffuse the situation in a manner that strategically leaves the subject feeling too sensitive.

Why did the speaker choose to focus on the wife, is a question those who don’t regard normal human interactions as social psychological operations would have to answer, at this point in the interactions. There is a myriad of conversations they could choose, yet they chose to focus on our wife. Most people may choose to believe that such questions are innocuous, but some of us believe that this tactic can be located somewhere in the devious chapter of their social psych OPS playbook, for we know they have no real interest in our wife’s state. They may think that their wife is better looking, or in some way superior, to ours. They may also know that our wife is something of a nag, and that we have had some resultant, marital problems as a result that permits them some feeling of dominance through comparative analysis. It’s also possible that this is not an overt attempt to be devious, but that they just feel more comfortable discussing wives with us.

“How are the kids?” is another question they may ask. “How’s your kid’s soccer game going?”

Again, this may appear innocuous on the surface, but they know that our kid has had some challenges when it comes to displaying athletic prowess, and they have had no such difficulties with their kid. They know that they have a lot of social psych op points on us on this page, and they enjoy displaying them whenever the two of us interact in the refreshment center. It gives them a little lift for that day to know that while their lives are not what anyone would call intact, at least it isn’t as bad as ours.

Whether the subject of the conversation revolves around kids, or wives, most people do not concoct conversations with us for the sole purpose of proving superiority, and most of them do not take overt glee in whatever causes us stress, but they just feel comfortable speaking to us on certain subjects. They may not enjoy speaking about productivity numbers, for example, because that is where we have proven superiority. We may try to change the subject to productivity numbers, because that is where we feel most comfortable, and we may not take overt glee from their troubles in this area.

“What do you think of that Jones fella?” they ask. “He’s such a blow hard, always going off about how great his kids are, and how great his wife is, and how much money he makes.” By saying such a thing to us, they’re telling that they like us because we’re humble, self-effacing, and self-deprecating, and they find our self-effacing comments endearing. Nobody likes a blowhard, who doesn’t know how to laugh at themselves, and we all consider humility a virtue, but why do we prefer humble people? Is it because we don’t like playing these games, or does it have something to do with the idea that we don’t like playing these games with Jones, because he defeats us on most of our bullet points?

“As for that talk about money,” they’ll add. “I heard it from another bird, who heard it from another bird that Mr. Jones cannot afford that house he lives in. It’s true. Everyone thinks he has it all, but I’m here to tell you that the Jones clan is deep in debt, and they’re playing it day-to-day.”

The two of us know that Jones has a beautiful house, and the two of us both hate him for the car he drives, but knowing that he cannot afford it all gives us both a lift for the day.

“I could live like that too,” we add with a laugh. “If I didn’t mind living in debt.”

The two of us have just compiled some much needed points on the Jones fella that we can keep close to the vest the next time we see him. We thank this work associate for that information, because we needed that lift. We needed the social psych op points.

Strategic Psych OPS

The strategic nature of the social psych op playbook involves gathering information gathering activities, conducted by the psychological soldier, on those outside their immediate sphere of influence, or their enemies.

They may begin with a simple attempt to understand our likes and dislikes, but they will evolve this conversation to an attempt to understand why we have these likes and dislikes, until they have a snapshot of our soul, and our sense of life. They may not be engaging in warfare in the truest sense of the word, but the knowledge they gain in this basic training phase will help them establish some form of dominance in preparation for any for social warfare that erupts in the future.

“But I don’t do any of this,” some of our friends will complain, if we bring our social psych ops theories to them, “and I don’t know anyone who does.” When we hold them to account, by repeating to them some instances where they did, they say, “I wasn’t dressing you down when I asked you about your day, your wife, or your kids, I just wanted to know how you guys were doing. Nothing more. I had no ulterior motives. I just wanted to get to know you better. Sheesh, maybe you need to get out more.”

It is possible that some people think this way. It is possible that their “How is your day?” conversation was benign? It’s also possible that their search for dominance was occurring on a level they may not even be aware of. It’s also possible that this attempt to tell you that they don’t play such games is a social psych op in and of itself.

The follow up sentence to further condemn you to a few moments beneath their heel would be,

“And I can’t believe you do … play games like these.”

By telling us that our outlook on life is steeped in inordinate cynicism, they just scored some social psych ops points on us. Some of the times they vocalize such sentiments, but most of the times it is an unspoken sentiment that they keep close to the vest for their own, internal accumulation of points.

The final social psych op occurs when we look back on this conversation and realize that they were engaging in a social psychological operation that is foreign to us, one steeped in passive aggressions. We may believe that, on some level, they were lying, and we may believe we have just gained some insight into who they are, and that we have gained some points in the social psych ops playbook with that knowledge.

But, and this is a crucial element to understanding how other people’s minds work, they may not be lying in the truest sense of the word. They may believe that they never engage in social psych ops. They may believe that they’re nice people walking through a day, trying to make as many friends as possible. They may turn around, not five minutes later, and inform us of a social psych op they engaged in with Mary in accounting, but they don’t see that interaction the way we do. They don’t view their actions as an attempt to achieve dominance over Mary. They may see it as a simple conversation that the two of them had, and if we see something more in it, that’s on us. They may see Mary in accounting as the hoebag that she is, and the fact that Mary just happened to tell her hoebag stories to them was done without any prompting on their part, but the fact that they told us about it means that they think they scored some points on Mary.

The latter description is the true definition of social psych ops, for most of them occur without either party’s knowledge. Most social psych ops occur when we notice the clothes someone wears, the coffee they drink, their inferior hygienic practices, the manner in which they entered into our conversation or exited it, how often they swear, or how they part their hair, how they tell a joke, if they’re hip to the latest music, or if they’re too hip and conformed to marketing manipulation, how they get emotional, or if they do, what they eat, and how they eat, if they’re too random, or too calculating, and where we fit into all those social paradigms. Those are the social psych ops that we engage in every day whether we know it or not.

Like military psychological operations, social psych ops are conducted to convey select information and indicators to an audience to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of groups and individuals.

The mission of these operations is to inform our audience that we are superior to them in some way shape or form, or if that’s not the case, we hope to at least take something away from the interactions. The latter may be more important, for it is in these bumper car-type interactions, with opposing forces that we tend to locate some definition of our character. It is also by engaging in these interactions that we become more equipped to deal with them in the future. They can be practiced in wartime situations, and in peace, and they can be used to define or malign, but best practices dictate that we, at least, acknowledge how often they are in play with everyone from our fiercest opponents to our good friends so that we are prepared.

As with any exercise of this sort, our opponent will attempt to survey the battlefield before engaging. He will try to locate our insecurities and place his best forces there. The best social psych ops general will also have knowledge of his weaknesses, and either place some forces there, or cede ground. There’s nothing wrong with temporary, strategic surrender, as long as we recognize our opponent’s attack strategy for what it is.

Those equipped with a brain that requires more processing, may need to concede ground to those that are blessed with quick-wits for a time. If we are the types who require more processing time, consider the fact that our life will be filled with social psychological operations from all quarters, and we will need to learn how to react to them. Accept defeats for what they are, recognize these psychological ploys for what they are, no matter what excuses are given for deployment –and there will always be excuses given for few openly admit their strategy– and develop counter attacks that may foil or prevent future attacks.

All attacks and counterattacks are situational, of course, but one needs to establish a frame of reference for their opponents that they can develop an ability to counterattack with equal measure in most cases. This universal frame of reference is vital to a psychological operations soldier, for once we’ve established ourselves in a given area, our antagonists will attempt to switch the playing field on us. They may choose politics or sports, because their team has a recent history of beating ours in these arenas. They may choose the department of the company they work in, or the inferior position in the company we have. The might speak of the type of dog they own that is superior in a physical sense, or the shows we watch that are not as funny as theirs, or any psychological vine they cling to, as they hang off the cliff with all of their inferiorities dangling out for the world to see because they forgot to wear their psychological support hose.

One might think that those who engage in strategic, information often rely on professorial and clinical psychological study, but most of it relies on the incidental research we perform on friends and family to achieve active dominance on the battleground. It is the latter that we will concentrate on in our conversations here, for if a reader’s interests lie in the more clinical and professorial arenas there are countless books and blogs that will educate and entertain in this fashion, but we know what we know. For the rest, the reader must go … elsewhere.

Operational PSYCH OPS

To this point in our psych ops training, we have focused on some unknown strategic ploys and information gathering exercises of social psych ops warfare. All of this is key to understanding how these PSYCH OPS are employed, of course, but no amount of theoretical discussion will help a reader understand what they’re up against better than witnessing these practices deployed in live action.

Operational PSYCH OPS involve putting all that was gathered during the information gathering exercises of social psychological operations into play. It is an informed approach that the psych op soldier uses to attack fellow psych op soldiers in what could loosely be termed a training exercise.

“Don’t tell anyone, but I have a weakness …” is something we might have confessed to a true friend, during those benign conversations that true friends have. Have you ever had that friend use that vulnerable information against you? “I confided that information to you in strict confidence!” is something you might say.

If you have been in this situation a number of times, you know the U-bend pipe defense that PSYCH OPS soldiers use in the manner cartoon characters use it to return gunfire. “Don’t be so sensitive,” they might say, or “Don’t be so defensive.” Whatever tactic they use, it’s incumbent on you to get over the violation of trust.

Those of us who have witnessed intimate revelations evolve in a manner where they are used in tactical moments, recall those moments when they were used in operational, training exercises. Failure will occur in this operational, training phase, but it will be less damaging to the PSYCH OPS soldier, for it will be conducted during family get-togethers, social outings, or any intimate outings that allow those involved to correct any deficiencies in their delivery.

The idea that a strategic operational campaign can occur without your knowledge is not only possible, it is likely, for they will often occur in pot shot fashion, similar to guerrilla warfare. This may appear to be a training exercise to all parties concerned, but watch what is said during training exercises, for they can evolve into a live-fire training exercise when we least expect it.

Tactical PSYCH OPS are the culmination of all that was learned in the previous two, social psychological operations in that they are conducted in an arena assigned by the individual across a wide range of psychological operations to support the tactical mission against opposing forces. When the PSYCH OPS soldier exploited our weakness in the training exercise, they were testing our vulnerabilities, and gauging our reactions to see if the material could be used later, before the opposite sex, or in any arena that involves an individual that the psychological operations soldier is trying to impress.

One may not experience tactical operations from their closest friends for years, until such time that the individual uses all that they have learned in training exercises to impress that one person that means something to them. The victim may be surprised by the attack that appeared to come from nowhere and didn’t appear to establish anything beyond what could be termed humorous and insignificant. For the operational soldier, however, the tactical use of psychological warfare is the end game. It’s the reason they invited you to this particular outing, it’s the reason they engaged in all those private, training exercises with us, and it’s the reason they continue to call us a friend.

One popular tactical weapon is the Dumb-Fire Missile. The Dumb-Fire Missile has no targeting or maneuvering capability of its own, and it is often maintained in reserve for stealth attacks on friendly targets. The Dumb-Fire Missile is often launched before a large group of people. It receives the same reactions as live fire, and is often followed by an:

“I was only kidding. Sheesh!” comment is a Dumb-Fire Missile used to counter attack a counter attack. When they reveal a vulnerable nugget of information about us, and we effectively counter with our own nugget, a fight starts. During the makeup phase, we’re still heated that they revealed our most vulnerable information, but they’re laughing, and they’re saying, “I was only kidding. Sheesh!”

The stealth effectiveness of the Dumb-Fire Missile occurs when it goes beyond dismantling the defenses of its opponent to encouraging popular discontent against the counter attack with persuasion. Used often enough, the Dumb-Fire Missile can effectively degrade an adversary’s ability to conduct, or sustain, future operations against them.

The Dumb-Fire Missile is similar to the U-bend pipe defense in that it returns fire, but it is more effective in disrupting and confusing the adversary’s decision-making process by undermining their command and control with the idea that we might never know when they’re truly serious. Most of those who don’t regard normal human interactions as social psychological operations know that these soldiers aren’t serious, and they will attempt to laugh as hard as others, because they don’t take themselves all that serious, and they’re perfectly capable of laughing at themselves, because they’re wary of being perceived as too defensive.

The successful deployment of this strategy, followed by the Dumb-Fire Missile, has the potential to procure enjoyment of foreign forces to a point that the social PSYCH OPS adversary loses will to fight. By lowering the adversary’s morale, and then its efficiency, these operations can also discourage aggressive reactions by creating disaffection within their ranks, ultimately leading to total surrender.

The integrated deployment of the core capabilities of social operations warfare, involve psychological operations, personal deception, and a display of security in concert with providing support. These attacks can be launched under the guise of the aggressor pretending that these attacks are performed in a humorous vein, and you shouldn’t get so upset at that which they deem to be insignificant. It is a passive-aggressive approach that they use to undermine our base that makes us feel foolish for believing that we thought we saw ulterior motives. Once we understand that this is not so serious, any furtherance will influence us to side with them while they are attacking us, in a manner that will disrupt our normal reactions, and corrupt or usurp our normal adversarial decision making processes all while protecting them from current or future attacks on the topic in question.