Darth Vader is in the mood for love – A Study in the Art of AIMS / Part 1

September 14, 2008

Dear Readers,


This interview series is conducted between the FILB and a senior planner in the brotherhood who is responsible for assessing the impact on AIMS on our blogosphere.


[This has been brought to you by the FILB – The Brotherhood Press 2008]

Q: Cerebus, may I begin by thanking you for taking the time for this interview; as the chief planner of the strategic outlook committee, may I just say, it’s a privilege for the FILB to conduct this interview. Let me dive into the issues directly, how do you see the AIMS initiative?


A: You are most welcome Y2K. I think we can see it from various perspectives, but the main issue is how most netizens see it; here I think, when the government says they want to simply connect with people its conceivable it’s a bit like Darth Vader saying he is the mood for love and so the take can’t be so different from this




What the government may need to seriously consider in its e-engagement drive is this may not just be a simple matter of popping a few tic-tacs to freshen one’s breathe when they say they want to connect with netizens.



Q: Cerebus, I recently asked Vollariane what he thought about the AIMS initiative; he mentioned to me, they were strong on the doing part, but short on the why should we be doing it, part.


I think he generally feels there should be more underpinnings accounting for the whole thrust to revamp our net – can you please share with us what you think about Vollarianes assessment? Do you agree with him? Or do you think he is just quibbling over the small stuff?



A: No, I don’t believe he is quibbling over small change. If anything I believe he has captured most of our findings very well.


Let’s get a few things straight. The AIMS proposals is basically in 4 segments:


(a) Recommending that the government develops a strategy for “e-engagement”

(b) Deregulating online political content 

(c ) Protection of minors 

(d) Intermediary immunity for online defamation


What Vollariane is saying is (a) is everything. The rest you can more or less throw out of the window. This may sound like a very radical idea, but what he’s essentially invoking is the Pareto principle. Which is also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparsity goes something like this, for many events, 80% of the effects come from only 20% of the causes.


Business management gurus, economist and even high class call girls have long known about this simple operating principle. It’s a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., “80% of your sales comes from only 20% of your customer base.” By the same logic, if you want to improve lets say the output of a factory, all you need to do is nail down the 20% to get the 80% changes.


What Vollariane is trying to say is if they get this part wrong; then you can be assured, although it forms only 20%, it will come back and bite them and probably cause 80% of the grief; conversely, if they get the quality control right on this point; it will resolve 80% of their problems  i.e they will not only be able to free up our net, but they may even be able to make a great recommendation like the Marshall plan.


It all depends on the 20%. And the 20% is the philosophy part.  


Q: This sounds like something very complex. Can you please explain further for the benefit of our readers who may not have any war gaming experience on how the ASDF comes up with their assessment that AIMS should be doing this but not that? I don’t want to come across as rude, but I think some of our readers may actually be thinking – these people are quite presumptuous and arrogant to even believe, they can talk down to AIMS.


A: We are not talking down to AIMS. I think none of us here disputes AIMS is definitely doing something, but whether what they are doing can produce the claimed super duper good is another story – its really a bit like going for an evening stroll in the park and seeing a man searching for something he may have lost under a street lamp and when you ask him why isn’t he extending his search beyond the wan of the street lamp – he replies, because it makes no sense to search in darkness.

At one level there is some measure of truth, but what if what he lost lurks in darkness?



Q: I am sorry, Cerebus, I am not following you, can you maybe relate your story to an actual AIMS initiative to explain further what you mean?


A: If you like. Take the AIMS proposal of training civil servants how to engage with the online community – makes perfect sense as an idea. But once you subject it to the rigors of critical analysis; by turning over many other questions like what is the current cultural attributes which makes up whole the departmental mentality? Can it even effectively support the whole idea of e-engagement? What’s the strengths and weakness etc?


As we go deeper into these issues, its conceivable we may even discover a fault line; where perhaps we can even argue unless the government first buys into the idea the best way to produce something good might be through allowing people a higher degree of autonomy and freedom to experiment. Instead of embodying the corseted belief that the system is always more important for the sake of the collective good, then this whole idea of training civil servants to e-engage might as well be a lofty exercise like ploughing the sea.


I think we really need to go deeper into the whole idea of e-engagement; this is not just about talking and connecting with people on the basis of “please don’t rock the boat mentality.” I see it very much as a game of strategy, managing opportunities and threats along with the whole idea conflict and risk management etc – unless it’s treated on that professional basis – you will be in trouble.


Q: Did all this issues surface during the simulation – can give a peek into the process?


A: There is no mystery really and to be very honest with you it’s quite a tedious affair. For lack of a better word, war gaming is really just a fantastic way of getting a handle on a very complex problem – its really a dummies way of solving really complex problems – a bit like resolving a math equation, where one begins by theorizing and then subjecting these assumptions to test, to see whether they are resilient enough to withstand critical scrutiny – one reason why we like to frame the problem of e-engagement in the context of a war games is it’s a very reliable way for us to scale very accurately many issues which would otherwise be impossible to do, if we just got a few people to sit around a table and discussing the matter while shooting pichers of beer – for example when we look at e-engagement most of us would tend to only think this is just an attempt by the government to reach out, connect and generally talk cock.


But in a war game scenario – when the term e-engagement is thrown out by lets say the blue team – the opposing red team, may very well begin to formulate a whole range of possible scenarios; its conceivable their planners may even decide to conduct a strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats analysis to scale an entirely different definition of e-engagement from what was originally agreed on even – if they are really good, they may even begin to develop interdiction strategies to scale these threats and opportunities.


But one thing is very clear; by this time in the game, when we look at the term e-engagement, its very far removed from the whole idea of just connecting with people; by this time, it’s a bit like holding at a prism to the light, where all sorts of uncomfortable questions form up against the foreground, where one may even ask questions like – is e-engagement an imperialistic move by a certain political party to establish a beach head in blogosphere? Others may even so as far as to ask whether perhaps this may be as the French colonist like to claim; a la mission civilisatrice?


Now sure, you can say this people are all crazy and probably smoking weed, but I my point is during our simulations we did register these divergent tendencies as being particularly suggestive when the idea of e-engagement was mooted it really means different things to different people.


So this observation really goes back to what Vollariane mentioned when he said AIMS is hot on the doing, but short on the why’s – what I think you need to appreciate here is – real or imagined this whole idea e-engagement needs to be fleshed out further as in the absence of a governing philosophy there is a real risk e-engagement as mooted by AIMS can and will spin out of control till finally it finds itself fraught with all sorts of questions, doubts, polemics and groundless assumptions as nearly to resist use altogether.


Q: Can you be more specific when you say AIMS needs to “appreciate” this risk of e-engagement if the idea is not to “spin out of control.”


A: I think it is very easy for us to assume the task of clarification simply involves defining and attempts at delimitations of the term e-engagement, but I don’t believe that is what Vollariane is trying to say. That may certainly be one part of it, but based on my reading what Vollariane seems to be advocating is an Archimedean perspective for all us (netizens and governments) to understand precisely what does this whole idea of change entail and more importantly how it should manage it.


Q: Don’t you think enough explanations have been made to explain the motivation why the government needs to engage netizens?


A: I don’t know why it’s so difficult to get this point across Y2K. Let me try. Till now I think most of the explanations have to be incomplete as till now most of it seems to be largely political and economic practical necessities of having to engage; that’s really like saying; you want to get married, but if you weigh 200 kg have a personality like cod liver oil; you really need to consider hitting the gym and subscribing to National Geographic and doesn’t harm your chances either; if you get an image consultant to give you an extreme makeover.


Q: So you are saying the government needs an extreme make over to come across as more approachable, if it is to first succeed in the whole enterprise of e-engagement.\


A: Look I am not saying Cheong Yip Seng needs to go down to the RSPCA and find a furry cat and wear it on his head to come across as a more affable person – I think, we really need to go back to what Vollariane is saying when he made a very strong recommendation for philosophical change. AIMS came out with a report entitled Engaging New Media: Challenging Old Assumptions.

What I think forms the crux of Vollarianes recommendations is, many of these old assumptions reside within the oligarchies which all cumulatively add up to make up what we call the persona of the government – we are not only talking here about laws, policies and methodology but also very subtle cultural attributes or what I would term a structure of thinking – and all these need to be strategically aligned make sure there is even a basis for effective communication.

I think that is really the direct opposite of an extreme makeover which is closer to cosmetic or what we will usually associate with superficial change.

No one I think really takes civil servants and politicians rapping and break dancing very seriously – sure, we give them Brownie points for effort, but I think what I may need to press home here is this is not a play play point, that’s to say when Vollariane uses the term philosophy and fuses it to the whole idea of change – it’s strategic in nature and its very specific and define and knowing probably drop dead serious.


Q: Cerebus can you give us a specific and defined understanding of the philosophy of change?


There are really too many to mention. But just to give you a general idea of what we may be talking it could very well be the whole idea of soft power – soft power is a term used in conflict management to describe the ability of a hegemony, such as a state or institution, to indirectly influence the behavior or interests of other interested bodies through cultural or ideological means.


This isn’t a term you find bandied around in the Oprah Winfrey show, its serious stuff and if you really want to read up on it; there are plenty of decent material in the net that will do a better job of explaining what it really means. (track back cut off, response lost) that not only comes with plenty of academic underpinnings but it also has a lineage that can provide many underpinnings for managing this whole idea of change effectively rather than haphazardly.


I think a better question to ask Y2K is can there really be e-engagement without first considering what needs to be changed government before it is able to solicit change in others?


Q: Cerebus some people can say AIMS is already adopting many of the soft power strategies you have mentioned – I went down to their website and took a look and to be honest with you, it looks quite approachable. So don’t you think what you are recommending is over the top?


A: I don’t think it’s even over the first storey and it’s definitely not over the top, not when one considers the deficits or ground that needs to be overreached when we take about e-engagement.

Before you even consider whether e-engagement is a good idea it may be a good idea to just ask; where does government stand in the competitive matrix? That’s to say, we are gauging it’s capacity to effect change, very much in the way, we may subject an athlete to a battery of test to see how fit he is; firstly, just ask yourself, how does the government come across to most netizens?

That may seem like a loaded question, but I think when you paraphrase e-engagement in the context of soft power what you may even need to do is understand from the onset; the question isn’t asking you whether the PAP is a good and clean government; or is it a government that can be reliably trusted to deliver the good life; so in the vocabulary and structural thinking of soft power, you are never ever really dealing with what hard power planners term practical necessities of a quantifiable nature as much as you are managing how events and conditions shape public perception – what I think needs to be stressed here is, this isn’t a conventional war like when we decide to invade planet X or Y in our game. Where we will input relative strengths against mission objectives to derive at a projection and off we parachuting stormtroopers – when we speak about soft power we may even be going into very fuzzy terrain which may lean more to the qualitative; that has to be a challenge to manage for governments, as it imposes a paradigm shift on how to define success and tabulate a “win” point; as what we are really dealing with when we talk about soft power is a battle that is waged in the hearts and minds.


So against this hall of mirrors backdrop we need to ask ourselves what sort of strategies have the government traditionally used on netizens; how do they generally come across to netizens? Do they seem implacable, inflexible and self righteous at times?


Now bear in mind this is an elephant question. As who is really the “government” isn’t really very well defined in Singapore. That question is cut and dried in the UK and in the US depending on which state you’re asking the question, it too may not be so clear either, but in the vast majority of cases, it’s still possible to make out the broad line that separates the executive from the legislative, but in Singapore, I think, when talk generally in lay man’s terms about government; you may even need to appreciate all 3 estates (executive, legislature and judiciary) are usually seen one of the same political and operational reality – now why is this observation so important to the whole idea of e-engagement?


Because if one day; Walter Woon lets say decides tomorrow to sue a newspaper to foreclose on his version of the truth against theirs; tell me, will this color the general perception of the government? Or will most people consider this an independent act by the judiciary?


Understand this! Again we are not talking about hard and cold facts here; I am not asking you what happened at lets say 9.00 am in chambers when the decision was made; sure you can tell me as far as constitutional law goes; there is no nexus, but I think in the language of soft power, things are never ever that simple. As a large part of the answer is really in the eyes of the beholder.


Do you see the subtle effects of culture, values and ideas been played out here beyond just modulating behavior from more direct coercive measures called hard power such as military action and legal proceedings.


What I think you need to understand here is when we talk generally about managing perception in the context of soft power; it’s even possible for water to run uphill and rubbish all our standard assumptions; here I think, what governments need to understand is while they may be very adept at winning every argument and even getting their point admirably across in the real world – what they need to be mindful of is in e-engagement – that sort of world view is a lousy producer of good results.


Soft power is really a different ball game and even we have less than 2 earth years which is roughly 300 space years to manage it, but what I share with you is it hinges heavily on a host invisibles factors besides hard nosed pragmatic results like getting a court judgment – like I said hard power, is a no brainer, its really assigning resources to overrun your opponent – here I believe reputation, perception along with other factors such as standing in the community and good will may not so easily manipulated by either governments or bureaucrats – it was not easy for us and we are only gamers –  however, this is not a game where if you get it wrong, you can just press the reset button and play again – that I feel is why Vollariane is advocating a governing philosophy.


Q: You mentioned just then that its possible for water to run uphill – what do you mean by this?


A: I think this is really the crux of the whole matter – no one doubts, there is a need to engage, but the question isn’t really how as much as what needs to be done first to effectively facilitate the whole process of engagement – here we may need to recognize, soft power may even impose a new understanding on how governments have traditionally defined success – by this I mean, in this game board, it’s even possible for the government to win all the battles yet manage to do the impossible and lose the war – that in the nut shell is the defining difference between soft and hard power.


Q: Can you share with us what is your main concern as the chief planner here?


A: I think in principle the AIMS initiative is good not because it is good, but it’s one of the boldest initiatives ever undertaken by government. Here we may need to recognize in every oligarchy there are always doves and hawks – that’s to say there are progressive people and those who just know how to keep to the yellow brick road. I don’t imagine for one moment these initiatives have originated from the hardliners – so I believe it is important to support those who are progressive and moderate who moot the idea of change; if we don’t give them the ammo, they die, if we don’t give them the encouragement, they die – if we don’t replenish the supply lines, they will run out of steam and give up –  it’s really as simple as that, because as much as we like to believe what they may be doing amounts zero, it is not – whether they have got it right 100% is really an academic moot point in my opinion – what is important is we have to seriously consider supporting these initiatives.
I think sometimes it is easy for us all not to get involve and buy into the spirit of bochapness, but understand this, we reap what, we sow. I think all netizens would do well to consider what’s really the cost of turning our backs on this initiative – like it or not, this may be as good as it ever gets in our lifetime and if we don’t make the best of it – then what can I say – it’s fucked, it’s game over.
I personally don’t believe, we can just stand by and watch this train go off the cliff, by hook or crook, we may even have to consider taking equity in this whole process to make sure it succeeds – we may even have to parachute a few of our really good people like Singaporedaddy, Harphoon and Scholarboy in the real world to ensure the end result is fair to positive, there is alot at stake here.
{FILB – The Brotherhood Press 2008}



One Response to “Darth Vader is in the mood for love – A Study in the Art of AIMS / Part 1”

  1. FILB said

    Due to acute labor shortage – the brotherhood cannot reply or post any of your comments.

    We regret this inconvenience.


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