Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hail Satan – Or Why We Need More Devils

I finally got round to seeing the film World War Z which presented an interesting concept, the idea of the tenth man. Apparently, this is based on truth according this description on-line:

Following the Yom Kippur War (1973) which took Israeli military intelligence by surprise, institutions were put in place to reduce the chances that group think and overly dominant commanders would prevent diverse opinions from reaching decision makers or from being initiated at all. One of these was a unit often referred to as the devil's advocate office.

As describe by Yosef Kupperwasser, who used to head the Research Division of the IDF, in Lesson's From Israel's Intelligence Reforms :

The devil’s advocate office ensures that AMAN’s intelligence assessments are creative and do not fall prey to group think. The office regularly criticizes products coming from the analysis and production divisions, and writes opinion papers that counter these departments’ assessments. The staff in the devil’s advocate office is made up of extremely experienced and talented officers who are known to have a creative, “outside the box” way of thinking. Perhaps as important, they are highly regarded by the analysts. As such, strong consideration is given to their conclusions and their memos  go directly to the office of the Director of Military Intelligence, as well as to all major decision makers. The devil’s advocate office also proactively combats group think and conventional wisdom by writing papers that examine the possibility of a radical and negative change occurring within the security environment. This is done even when the defense establishment does not think that such a development is likely, precisely to explore alternative assumptions and worst-case scenarios.

In the film, it was described as “the duty” of the tenth man to challenge the majority which implies that even if he agrees with the consensus he must oppose them by presenting a thorough investigation and case to the contrary.

The use of the phrase “devil’s advocate” is an interesting one seeing as the word satan in the original Hebrew means to oppose, be against, or accuse. The figure of Satan appears by name only twice in the entire Old Testament. Once is in the book of Job where Satan is apparently on staff in heaven acting as a literal devil’s advocate against God who praises Job’s piety which Satan questions. The second is in the book of Numbers where God sends an adversary to prevent Balaam from acting against his own people. This word translated into English as adversary is the Hebrew word satan. It is not until after the Babylonian Captivity, possibly due to the influence of the Zoroastrian religion, that Satan became elevated to evil prince of darkness we know today.

Once upon a time the field of Science was known as Natural Philosophy. At the core of this philosophy is the scientific method not as the pursuit of truth, but rather the pursuit of falsehood. Humans are by nature believing creatures. Science has brought about the world we enjoy today by chipping away false beliefs, not by building truth. Whatever remains after this process is granted the highest honour of being deemed most likely true. As a result science has brought mankind closer to truth that any other study.

The popular rendering of the tale of Satan was that he was once the angel Lucifer whose arrogance led him to challenge God for which he was cast from heaven into hell. The name Lucifer means “light bringer” and is associated with the morning star, the planet Venus. As such, the name carries the connotation of meaning enlightenment. I prefer to see this story in reverse. By being Satan, challenging accepted beliefs, we achieve enlightenment to become Lucifer.

I appreciate that billions of people throughout the world believe the tale of Lucifer/Satan to be fact and with that have all sorts of associations concerning this source of all evil. However, in this context I am using Satan’s role as an allegory to illustrate that every organisation, even God’s heavenly one, needs a tenth man, a satan if you will, to challenge the leadership, the yes-men, the group think, and the herd mentality be it in politics, business, social life, or even within ourselves.  We all need a little devil inside to challenge our own biases and assumptions.

1 comment:

  1. I really admire your posts and your blog. I do hope you never stop writing! :) I first stumbled upon your AC3 post and it got me hooked. Wonderful and very interesting. I shall continue reading all your other posts.