Thursday, October 18, 2018

‘Official Cherokees’ disrespecting mixed-ethnicity Americans?


By Steve Hammons 

In recent days a robust, if often misguided, national conversation has taken place in our country: Who is a Cherokee? 

The questions and answers about this interesting and important subject have been influenced by politics, lack of understanding of U.S. history and Cherokee history, “white guilt” and an odd kind of reverse racism. 

Well-meaning journalists and others have dismissed and disrespected millions of Americans who likely have Cherokee ancestors in their family trees. 

In the spirit of supporting an abused and oppressed underdog and minority, the Cherokee, good-intentioned people are jumping on the bandwagon to trash anyone who claims Cherokee heritage but is not an official member of one of the three U.S. government-approved Cherokee groups. 

Some reactions in the media do not appear to reflect knowledge of American history regarding the highly-significant blending of the Cherokee culture with the early  Anglo, Scottish and Scots-Irish arriving in North America. 

There was a robust degree of intermarriage between Cherokees and Anglo, Scottish and Scots-Irish in the Appalachian region throughout the 1700s. The children from these marriages then married, and as the generations rolled on into the 1800s and 1900s, this Cherokee cultural heritage and genetic material were spread far and wide, not only in the Appalachian region, but in families throughout the U.S.   

TRAUMATIC DIASPORA 

For thousands of years, the Cherokee lived in the Appalachian region that today we call Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. That is the ancestral homeland, though in far ancient times the people we now call the Cherokee may have migrated from elsewhere. 

The forced removal of the Cherokee from this homeland prior to and during the organized ethnic cleansing known as the Trail of Tears was traumatic, some might even say criminal, as it resulted in thousands of deaths including the elderly, children, babies and adults. 

Yet, some Cherokee were able to avoid the removal. Perhaps they hid out deep in their beloved mountains and avoided the soldiers. Perhaps they fled to surrounding regions. 

And those of mixed ethnicity, who had adopted Anglo, Scottish or Scots-Irish names from their fathers or grandfathers, and had lighter skin, might have tried to “pass as white” out of necessity. 

At the same time, many mixed-ethnicity Cherokee/Anglo/Scottish/Scots-Irish faced the horrific trials of the forced removal and the long, terrible journey to Oklahoma. 

Today, two of the three Cherokee groups recognized by the U.S. government are in Oklahoma, with the group called The Cherokee Nation being the largest by far. 

And in the east, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians remains based in the heart of the ancient homeland in the region of the border between eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. 

It could be argued that generations of people with various degrees of Cherokee ancestry who remained in the Appalachian region actually remained closer to the roots of Cherokee culture and history. They stayed close to the deep, dense forests of the mountains and valleys. Close to the trees and lush plant life. Close to the wildlife such as bears, the other animals large and small, and the birds of the forests. Close to the creeks, streams and rivers, and the fish and living things in them.

They stayed close to the deep, deep memories of eras long ago. 

HOME SWEET HOME 

In recent days, our national discussion has included the nature of the biological genetic material DNA within the body’s cells as well as culture and history. We have talked about psychology and human behavior.

All quite interesting, but have we understood the situation in a comprehensive and accurate way? 

As far as ethnic percentages, there is no doubt a long continuum of fractional percentages of Cherokee lineage – from full-blood, to half, quarter, sixteenth, etc. There are people raised with similarly varied proximity to Cherokee culture and history. 

Growing up in the region around Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas would certainly expose people to a good degree of Cherokee culture and history, and that of multiple other tribes that were relocated there. 

Likewise, the old Cherokee homeland region that includes Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia also retains a significant degree of connection with Cherokee and Native American culture and history. 

Many, many people who live in this region today, and have for generations, are conscious of their Cherokee heritage. Others might suspect this connection. And some may be totally unknowing about this possible element of their ancestry. 

Cherokee culture and history are part of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (a partner of the National Park Service) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It includes Cherokee heritage events, arts and crafts, music, museums, festivals and more. 

How many Americans each year are drawn to visit the many Cherokee-connected experiences in the Appalachian region? And why? 

As we try to learn more and understand more about the complex question of “who is a Cherokee?” it might be worthwhile to consider  all of the circumstances involved. It’s not black and white – or red and white. 

The millions of Americans today who have Cherokee connections in their family trees do not need the official approval of the U.S. government or officials of tribal groups to know who they are. They do not need the recognition of journalists and politicians. 

They cannot be disenfranchised from their heritage. Their heritage can be disrespected but cannot be stolen. They know about their deep roots in the Appalachian region and in the Cherokee civilization.  


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Government-approved Cherokees don’t tell whole story?


By Steve Hammons

There are three groups of Cherokees that are officially recognized by the U.S. government. Each maintains their own criteria for membership. Additionally, over the years U.S. government actions and court cases have also influenced membership decisions.  

During the so-called “Cherokee diaspora” beginning in the early 1800s prior to the “Trail of Tears" (1838-39), Cherokee individuals, families and communities were spread far and wide, settling in several states.


The three groups currently recognized by the U.S. government are: 

- The Cherokee Nation with headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. This is largest official group and includes more than 220,000 tribal members. 

- The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, also based in Tahlequah, has approximately 10,000 members and is the smallest of the three federally-recognized groups. 

- The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is headquartered in Cherokee, North Carolina, which includes approximately 12,000 members. 

Because of the significant degree of intermarriage between Cherokee and mostly-Anglo, Scottish and Scots-Irish in the Appalachian region during the 1700s, many Americans today have varying degrees of Cherokee ancestry. 

ANCIENT HISTORY 

According to the website of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area website (partner of the National Park Service), “The Cherokee, and what some anthropologists deem to be their pre-Cherokee ancestors, have lived in the mountains of North Carolina since the end of the last ice age, or about 10,000 B.C. The early Cherokee hunted, fished, and farmed, thriving in the rugged mountain landscape.” 

“More than a thousand years ago, these people began developing a distinctly Cherokee way of life. They shared decision-making and endeavored to reach democratic consensus on issues. Theirs was a matriarchal society, with land being handed down through the women of the tribe.” 

“The Cherokee lived in towns of rectangular log houses and worked extensive, communally-held farms nearby. Corn, beans, and squash—called the ‘three sisters’—were staples in their diet. They also raised potatoes and grew peaches. Each of their towns had a council house for meetings and religious ceremonies,” according to the website. 

To put Cherokee culture in context, from about 40,000 B.C. to 15,000 B.C. it is believed that migration to North America from Asia over the Bering Land Bridge occurred during irregular intervals. 


During the Paleo-Indian Period, 10,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C, Native Americans lived a nomadic lifestyle, hunted small and large animals, and ate wild plants. 

In the Appalachian region, researchers have documented continuous occupation at Williams Island near Chattanooga, Tennessee, for more than 10,000 years. Hunting camps and artifacts have been found at upper elevations throughout the southern Appalachian Mountain range.

According to some reports, ancient Cherokee tales tell of hunting mastodons in Appalachian forests. 

COLONISTS WANT LAND 

European colonists, who eventually became “Americans” after the American Revolution, arrived and gradually but steadily made their way into Cherokee lands in the Appalachian Mountains. 

At first, it was often friendly contact. Daniel Boone, for example, is a common symbol of relatively friendly interactions between colonial explorers and the Cherokee. There were reportedly a significant number of marriages between Cherokee women and Daniel Boone’s contemporaries.  

Boone and his associate Col. Richard Henderson purchased the land for the Fort Boonesborough settlement from the Cherokee in 1775. Boonesborough was established in April 1775. 

As the decades rolled on, newly-minted Americans started moving west from the colonies on the East Coast into and over the Appalachian Mountain range. Many coveted the Cherokee lands. 

By the early 1830s, it was clear to many people that the Cherokees would, sooner or later, be forced off their lands. Many Cherokees saw the writing on the wall and started moving west on their own. 

Some Cherokee and their supporters felt they could protect themselves by getting court rulings protecting their right to remain in their homeland. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor. But the court’s ruling was not enforced. 

In 1838-39, federal troops and state militia soldiers rounded-up Cherokee, forced them into holding detention camps and finally sent them on harsh forced marches and via other forms of transport to Oklahoma – the “Trail of Tears.” Thousands died.

During this phase of Cherokee history, there were accusations of betrayal and treason against  certain Cherokees who were accused of making deals to surrender Cherokee land in the Appalachians. Scores were eventually settled within the Cherokee community, including by murder. 

GOVERNMENT-APPROVED CHEROKEES 

Today’s Cherokee groups that are recognized by the federal government are the result of multiple census lists, known as “rolls.” These rolls were developed and completed by government Indian agents and others over the years for a number of different purposes. 

Many Cherokee were undoubtedly not included in these rolls, either inadvertently or intentionally, by the census takers or by Cherokee themselves. For the 1835 Henderson Roll ("Trail of Tears Roll") i
t’s probable that many Cherokee were living way out in the mountains or away from the census-takers, and who may have wanted nothing to do with these whites doing a head count of the Cherokee. 

The rolls ended up including and excluding many Cherokee. 

Some of these rolls are related to the eastern Cherokee, some to the Oklahoma Cherokee and some involved both: 

- 1835 Henderson Roll (“Trail of Tears Roll”) 

- 1848 Mullay Roll 

- 1851 Siler Roll 

- 1852 Chapman Roll 

- 1854 Act of Congress Roll 

- 1867 Powell Roll 

- 1869 Swetland Roll 

- 1884 Hester Roll 

- 1898 and 1914 Dawes Roll 

- 1910 Guion Miller Rolls 

- 1924 Baker Roll 

Today, certain of these rolls are key to official membership in the officially-recognized Cherokee groups. For example, the Dawes Roll is crucial to membership in The Cherokee Nation. The Baker Roll is important for Eastern Band membership. 

The modern history of the Cherokee people, especially since the 1700s, has been plagued by ill-conceived alliances in war, internal disputes and betrayal, and the fragmentation of the Cherokee people. 


This has resulted in what Gregory D. Smithers, PhD, professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University, calls the “Cherokee diaspora.” His book "The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity" includes valuable insights about Cherokee history and U.S. history.

This diaspora, the dispersion of a people from their original homeland, seems to continue today, taking new forms in our contemporary American society.
 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Are public safety, public health key elements of UFO situation?


By Steve Hammons

What if the so-called "Phoenix lights" UFO incident in 1997 had happened during daylight hours? In September 2018, are we better prepared for public, daylight, high-profile UFO encounters? 

Do average adults, teens and kids have adequate mental and emotional preparedness for these kinds of situations? 

To explore these important questions, it may be instructive to look at the Phoenix lights case from March 13, 1997.

When the Phoenix incident took place, it was early evening and already dark. This undoubtedly minimized the number of residents who actually visually observed what was reported to be a huge V-shaped object with large lights underneath.

If this had occurred during daylight, would there have been more anxiety by the public? Would local public safety peace officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs have been faced with increased challenges to maintain public safety? 

PSYCHOLOGICAL PREPAREDNESS

In many alleged UFO cases, an object quickly zips by at high speed and is gone in the blink of an eye. In other cases, sightings or encounters reportedly occur in isolated regions, where there are few human witnesses.

Since the object over Phoenix in 1997 was said to be very large, slow-moving and maintained a fairly low altitude, it would have been very visible over a significant length of time by millions of people if seen during daylight.

Feelings of anxiety would be very normal on the part of people who were seeing something they had never seen before. Their first impressions might be that there were two main explanations for such a large unidentified object: a U.S. craft or a ship piloted by non-humans, or at least non-Earth humans.

Once that thought process considered both options and concluded that the latter explanation was more likely, more natural questions might come to mind. 

The relatively few Phoenix residents who experienced these feelings and thoughts in 1997 would be multiplied by millions.

Feelings of fear or panic can be contagious, spreading rapidly to create a human social climate. This would be a concern for public safety and public health officials, and for the general public if a significant daylight UFO event were to occur over a major city.

It can be argued that concerns of this kind may be part of the reasons for the alleged secrecy of the U.S. government's handling of the UFO situation.

THEN AND NOW

In the late 1940s, the U.S. had just emerged from the trauma of World War II. As the '50s began, the Cold War with the Soviet Union commenced. Fear of attacks on U.S. soil was part of both WWII and the Cold War.

By the early ‘50s sightings of UFOs were becoming more frequent and some Americans were naturally somewhat unsophisticated about what these might mean. 

If accounts of federal government inside activities during those decades are correct, there was anxiety in Washington, D.C., about a possible invasion or infiltration of new kinds of adversaries – intelligent non-human ones.

The reasonable conclusions that these visitors were probably much more advanced technologically, and possibly in other ways, than humans also would have caused government leaders to worry. 

As a result, it would be logical for them react with high levels of security, secrecy and discretion regarding public reaction to such a scenario. It could be that programs to prepare and acclimate the public on these topics were implemented.

Today, Americans and people around the world appear to be more sophisticated about the possibilities or probabilities that UFOs and other anomalous phenomena may be real, and may be something quite complex, sensitive and unusual.

Movies, TV shows, books and other media platforms have tackled the themes of surprising situations such as UFOs and extraterrestrial visitation to our planet. Sometimes the visitors are friendly, sometimes hostile and sometimes fairly neutral.

Maybe this is also the case in real life. 

For most of us, the situation is unclear and we can only evaluate the available information and use our own intelligence, common sense and gut feelings to try to get an understanding of what might be going on.

Considering all the possibilities and outcomes from something like a daylight version of the Phoenix lights incident might help our communities and society prepare for that kind of contingency.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Telling the story of UFOs: Journalists face many responsibilities


By Steve Hammons

The recent and ongoing controversy about releases of sensitive information on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), also known as unidentified flying objects (UFOs), seems to raise both new and longstanding fundamental points about freedom of the press and the role of journalism in society.

This UAP/UFO topic might serve as a unique example about the way we look at the roles of journalism, government and citizens on an issue that could be both important to know about and also require discretion and sensitivity.

Today’s journalists and many other segments of society face continual changes in the evolving economy, technological development, scientific updates and the many other aspects of everyday life. 

Journalism in particular is dealing with longstanding ethical and professional guidelines about freedom of the press and responsible reporting. 

These are combined with a changing landscape of Internet technology and certain characteristics of major media companies.

BALANCING ACT

The touchstone of the U.S. Constitution and its provisions outlining freedom of speech and freedom of the press continue to be fundamental reference points. Many of the U.S. Constitution’s other attempts to strengthen human liberty are equally valuable and often equally controversial.

The task of balancing these freedoms with responsible behavior and common-sense discretion is now front and center in discussions about various current events. 

And, odd as it may seem, the UAP/UFO subject is one of these current challenges.

Just like other sensitive subjects involving national security, some people who have researched the UAP/UFO situation claim that a high level of restriction by governments on information about this topic is interfering with the right of citizens to know what their governments are doing.

And, the argument extends to the view that human beings at the grassroots of society have a need to know about certain subjects that could affect them, including unusual and unconventional discoveries and developments.

The counterpoint to this view is that some subjects must be kept secret for the sake of the greater good of maintaining national defense. And, in many cases, international alliances and friendships among nations and societies are also at stake. 

How should the profession and craft of journalism handle these factors? 

When the additional challenges of certain perspectives by media bosses in a time of changing economic dynamics come into play, journalists are now, as they often have been, faced with soul-searching dilemmas.

REPORTING ON MYSTERIES

In the case of unusual and unconventional scientific subjects, additional obstacles for journalism include self-censorship by media management and often by certain elements of scientific communities. These factors may also dovetail with defense-related information restriction for reasons of strategic national and global safety as well as tactical operational security.

Despite statements from people with various viewpoints that decisions about balance between security and freedom of the press are easy, this is probably not always the case.

As we know, sometimes a “top secret” classification is used to cover up wrongdoing and inappropriate conduct. 

At the same time, other classified situations, including highly compartmented and need-to-know circumstances, might truly require robust information security for a number of legitimate reasons.

According to some researchers, the UAP/UFO situation falls into a complex category of emerging scientific developments that could significantly change our views of Earth, the Universe, life and the human race. It may be quite complex because the various kinds of unusual flying objects seen over the decades and centuries are probably associated with even more surprising mysteries.

Extraterrestrial visitors, multiple dimensions, space-time anomalies, forgotten histories of human civilization, undiscovered aspects of human DNA, extrasensory perception and other edge-science subjects have all been linked to the UAP/UFO phenomena, both directly and indirectly.

Some researchers indicate this may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Responsible journalism on these kinds of subjects seems to have been somewhat limited to date. But that does not mean today’s journalists are incapable of handling the situation responsibly and professionally.

Understanding various security implications of unconventional situations that could affect the safety of American and global society must be part of journalistic considerations and judgment.

Important foundational elements of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are also factors that are key parts of responsible journalism in days past, now and in the future. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Story of ‘exchange program’ between US, extraterrestrials raises questions


By Steve Hammons

On Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, the last surviving member of a secret 12-person U.S. team that traveled to another planet passed on. His name remains closely held and he reportedly was buried at Arlington National Cemetery accompanied by full military honors. 

At least this is a story now being told about an alleged highly-classified pioneering mission that was the basis of the “away team” portrayed in the 1977 Steven Spielberg movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

According to claims that have emerged over the past several years, a team of 12 carefully-selected and specially-trained U.S. military personnel departed from the Nevada Test Site in July 1965. The mission was a planned 10-year exchange program on the home planet of a friendly race of intelligent extraterrestrial beings with whom U.S. defense and scientific authorities had established contact and communication.

The Americans boarded a large craft belonging to the extraterrestrial race and brought 40 tons of equipment and supplies with them for the planned 10-year stay. Communication was maintained with the team, who thoroughly documented all aspects of their experiences on the foreign planet and with its inhabitants.

The mission actually ended up lasting 13 years and eight members of the team returned in August 1978, again landing at the Nevada Test site. One team member reportedly suffered a fatal medical problem during the nine-month trip to the visitors’ planet and one member allegedly died while on the planet. According to the claims and stories about the mission, two members chose to remain on the planet instead of returning to Earth and the U.S.

A STORY EMERGES

It is an interesting story and despite seeming to be quite unbelievable, some observers have wondered if a real-life situation like this was the basis for the story Spielberg told in “Close Encounters.” Or, did the movie result in a fictional hoax launched in recent years for some unknown reason? Which came first?

In 2005, information began to appear on certain Web platforms and email communications that made claims about contact between U.S. officials and an extraterrestrial race dating back to 1947. According to these unsubstantiated assertions, a person with an alleged background with the U.S. defense and intelligence communities (who chose to remain anonymous) began “releasing” information on this subject.

The anonymous source (if he existed) was later joined by other alleged unnamed persons who claimed that the low-key release of this information was authorized at higher levels and part of a larger effort of some kind.

The accounts included not only the familiar 1947 “Roswell incident,” but the even more fantastic tale – that as communication with a friendly extraterrestrial race developed during the 1950s, the idea of an “exchange program” of sorts took shape.

Planning for the exchange program mission was reportedly implemented and word went out within the military community that personnel were wanted for a sensitive astronaut-type project. Scientists, technical specialists and others within the defense community were brought into the program as well, according to these accounts.

A vast amount of complex preparation was implemented to get ready for the mission. Many details of this planning were also put forth by the anonymous sources. The mission was highly compartmented for security reasons and many people knew only limited aspects of the operation, according to these alleged anonymous sources.

Over the years between 2005 and 2015, more information was intermittently presented about various elements of this exchange program and what was learned and discovered in the process.

Many highly-skeptical readers and observers openly doubted these reports and there was widespread belief that it was a hoax of some kind. What was the reason for such a deception? That was never made quite clear by the critics. And, this seems to remain an open question.

SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

One answer that is sometimes put forth is that certain significant discoveries and accomplishments by our scientific, defense and intelligence communities resulted in the need for both secrecy (“operational security”) and preparation or “acclimation” for wider groups of people about these developments.

Education, orientation and “situational awareness” regarding contact with extraterrestrials is something complex and sensitive, and needs to be handled very carefully with safety and security in mind, according to some perspectives. Could information such as the reports about this so-called exchange program be part of that kind of effort?

How about certain movies, TV shows and books (fiction, nonfiction and mixtures of both)? In addition to entertaining us and expanding our viewpoints, do some of them contain elements that move the ball forward for our understanding of actual events and circumstances?

As to the many segments of information released over the past 10 years about the alleged exchange program, some deal with discoveries not directly related to the story of the space voyage and 13-year stay off-world by the U.S. team.

Examples include claims of multiple types of extraterrestrials that are included in the reports as well as visitation to Earth going back into our planet’s ancient past. The subject of ongoing activities on and around Earth by some extraterrestrials is also explored in many of the alleged releases of information related to the exchange program.

Science fiction, science fact, elaborate hoax, complex deception, truthful orientation or some combination? There don’t seem to be clear answers about this fascinating claim of the Americans visiting a faraway planet.

But, it would make a good movie. Maybe we could title the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

..........

Note about this article:  A related element of "Close Encounters" includes U.S. Army personnel portrayed in movie wearing the patch on their uniforms that seems to be that of the 5th Special Forces Group. Only a relatively small number of people who view the movie probably recognize the patch. That message – that the personnel are Army Special Forces – is not communicated overtly, but in a discreet way in the movie. 

Army Special Forces personnel often are tasked with unconventional and covert missions.

A photo of Steven Spielberg and director-actor Francois Truffaut (who played the character of French researcher “Claude Lacombe”) on the set of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” shows Spielberg wearing a Vietnam-era camouflage Army uniform shirt. The patch on his left shoulder seems to be that of U.S. Army Special Forces ... a vertical sword with three diagonal lightning bolts. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Human perception key in hard power, soft power, smart power


By Steve Hammons

(This article was posted 4/17/15 on the CultureReady blog of the U.S. Defense Language and National Security Education Office.)

Back in 2009, news reports explained that a U.S. intelligence operative in Afghanistan had provided Viagra to an older tribal and community leader who had several younger wives. The story triggered humor, concern and insight about working closely with indigenous populations in Afghanistan elsewhere.

This case shows us that interacting with indigenous people – so that they may consider being friends of Americans instead of enemies – can be approached in various ways, conventional and unconventional.

Much discussion about soft power, hard power and smart power (the appropriate mix of hard power, soft power and other approaches) focuses on macro elements such as U.S. government international policies, diplomacy and military activities.

However, in the micro experience of troops, "human terrain" personnel and intelligence operatives on the ground, a different set of situation-awareness considerations may come into play. Merging hard power and soft power in a seamless way into smart power is a different matter when dealing face to face with communities, community leaders, tribes, families, parents and children.

DEPLOYING AWARENESS

U.S. Army Special Forces has long been a leader in cultural awareness and building rapport with indigenous people. More recently, the Army's Human Terrain System (HTS) and Human Terrain Teams (HTT) have tried to focus on cultural and sociological elements in current efforts overseas.

Communicating with other people can be challenging, especially when there are language and cultural obstacles, as well as dangerous environments. To reach people, sometimes nonverbal communication and behavior speak volumes.

In addition, we are learning that the psychology, beliefs, perception and emotions that affect behavior are being re-evaluated in certain leading-edge research.

What goes on in the human mind and human heart remain mysterious in important ways.


Are research and development into the understanding of human awareness and perception legitimate avenues when enhancing soft power and hard power resources?

Awareness and perception can include emotions, thoughts, dreams, beliefs, personal relationships, social networks, cultural influences, education, information acquisition, imagination, creativity, mental health and similar kinds of characteristics.

Understanding more about human perception is also part the concept referred to as "transcendent warfare." This term was coined by a Navy SEAL officer several years ago in a graduate-level paper at the Marine Corps War College in reference to utilizing and optimizing emerging and leading-edge research about human awareness.

SHARED PERCEPTIONS

For example, in many societies and cultures, spiritual beliefs and traditions are very influential. This often involves the belief that a creator, higher power or larger force is real, is affecting our lives, and that it is desirable to get closer to this larger power. These are fundamental aspects of many faiths.

In these scenarios, people often believe that through prayer, good deeds or other methods (even warfare), a personal connection with a higher power can be established and enhanced. In other words, it is believed in many cultures that our individual and group awareness or consciousness can achieve a connection with a higher power, or at least some elements of it.

Can this common denominator among people be optimized?

As we know, in times past as well as today, poor leadership within structured religions can sometimes drive people apart and even lead to violence and war. Some people seem to misunderstand and misrepresent many aspects of traditional spiritual teachings and insights.

However, by addressing this issue closer to the heart of the matter – deeper human psychology and awareness – it may be possible to mitigate these obstacles and connect with people in more effective ways.

Whether we consider the macro level of international relations or the micro level of boots on the ground in faraway places, human perception and enhanced situation awareness appear to be worthwhile areas of
focus. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Storytelling affects human biology, beliefs and behavior, say DARPA researchers


By Steve Hammons

(This article was posted 3/23/15 on the CultureReady blog of the U.S. Defense Language and National Security Education Office.)

Read any good books lately? How about a compelling TV drama or movie? We all like a good story, and good stories can affect us in significant ways.

As a result, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been researching how storytelling affects you, me and other people around the world.

Throughout human history we have been telling and listening to stories. Ancient humans sat around the nighttime campfire and shared tales with the clan and tribe. Oral histories were passed on to the next generations, often in story form. And, of course, human societies and cultures used the written word to tell their stories.

Based on this, researchers at DARPA indicate that we may be somewhat hard-wired to respond to such narrative stories. A DARPA project called “Narrative Networks” explores the neurobiology of listening to stories and how attitudes and behaviors can change as a result.

A story may cause us to look at something in a new way and change our views about people, life and the world around us. Storytelling can change our behavior, for the better or worse. The human tradition of storytelling has significantly influenced individuals, groups and societies, according to DARPA researchers.

POWERFUL INFLUENCE

On the DARPA website, the Narrative Networks research page says, “DARPA launched the Narrative Networks program to understand how narratives influence human cognition and behavior, and apply those findings in international security contexts.”

The DARPA Narrative Networks webpage asks, “Why do people accept and act on certain kinds of information while dismissing others?” Answers to this and other questions “have strategic implications for defense missions,” the DARPA statement claims.

An article on the Live Science website about the project referenced DARPA language during the start-up of the program: "Narratives exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out-group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity."

The Live Science article also noted, “Despite the functional goal, the early parts of this program seem more like a literature class at a liberal arts school than a secretive military operation.”

Wired also covered the program and reported in an article, “Another reason the Pentagon would want to spend time upping its sensitivity quotient is because of an ongoing effort on its part to understand the ‘human terrain’ of the battlefields in which they fight.

An Information Week article on the program noted, “The agency [DARPA] said that because of these influences, narratives play an important role in the context of security during military and intelligence engagements.”

In addition, DARPA researchers say that understanding how storytelling affects human neurobiology may lead to insights about helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

MEANINGFUL OR MANIPULATIVE

Storytelling has also been put forth by marketing people as a method in advertising, brand identity and customer/consumer acquisition and loyalty.

An article in today's New York Times said, “It’s been called a strategic tool with ‘irresistible power’ by Harvard Business Review and ‘the major business lesson of 2014’ by Entrepreneur magazine. What exciting new 21st-century technology is this? The age-old art of storytelling – something humans have done since they could first communicate." 

"Learning – or relearning – how to tell stories requires some skill.  And consultants are lining up to teach it – sometimes for a hefty fee,” the Times article stated.

The DARPA project on storytelling is part of a much larger recognition that stories seem to affect people on deep levels that we may not fully understand. There are indications that human neurobiology and neurochemistry may play a role. Chemicals in our brains and bodies may be released when we are exposed to a story that resonates.

Today, stories are told via many kinds of open-source media platforms and devices. TV, movies, digital, print and other media all serve as types of open-source intelligence for people around the world.

And there are many kinds of stories to hear.

Which ones click? What stories use "positive psychology" and resonate as truthful and meaningful, while others are recognized as false and manipulative? What storytelling lifts us up, or brings out the worst in us. What narratives take us to a better world, or to “the dark side?”

The DARPA study may find some answers.