J. Durden

Since I was about ten years old, I have more or less raised myself. I did not become economically independent from my family until I was 17, though I did have to start coming up with money to feed myself when I was 15. When I was 19, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. When I was 21, I had visions that, in another era, might have made me a prophet. In the modern era, they merely cast doubt.

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Deceit

So, the ultimate question then becomes…what matters more, actions or words? Which captures the essence of reality more, language or deeds? There was the deed you committed – the friend you betrayed for the love you wanted – lost in a galaxy of language about the universe you exist in. Yet you cannot understand your betrayal without the crutch of words.

Reality, then, can only be understood and interpreted as a series of words that form an ‘idea’ – another word representing yet more words. The fundamental role that language plays is at once taken for granted and exploited – sometimes by the same person. He twists and bends the truth, if he does not outright lie, in order to advantage himself at the expense of others.

And what, then, is the truth? The truth has become the pursuit of the most accurate and best fitting words to describe what is, what was, and what will come to pass. Absolute truth, the Truth with a capital T, would give an absolutely accurate understanding of the aspect of reality which it braced. Yet it is more complex than saying ‘the child is one year, three months, seven days, five hours, twenty minutes and six seconds old.’ For that does not apply in every instance, and in fact becomes invalidated the moment it is spoken.

Absolute truth is impossible to achieve, and instead we call veritable misnomers ‘the truth.’ What do words like ‘older’ mean to a universe that does not divide time as we do?

As you well learned, religion is full of misnomers. Xaos was no God, no god – were she anything, she was a goddess and yet even that is a profanity of the Truth, a blasphemy against reality.

What is the meaning of the implicit, correlated relation between honesty and the truth? Honesty is a relation of one’s understanding without any manipulations – an accurate, direct, and complete reiteration of a viewpoint to the best of one’s ability to articulate it. It is as close to the Truth – as accurate a distillation of reality – as one can reasonably be expected to come.

What Seth Vidar came to realize were precisely these things. In fact, he achieved a higher understanding – a total understanding of reality as it is, a feat mirrored by only two others: Xaos before, and Athanasios after. And where they drew similar conclusions, they chose entirely different ends. Xaos sought to impose her will on reality by editing it – at the cost of her sanity. Athanasios sought to destroy it, deeming it irrevocably damaged by those that came before – at the cost of his humanity. But Seth Vidar did nothing, waiting instead for the inhabitants of existence to redeem themselves in light of their transgressions. He had already paid a high price to learn the truth. He suffered the loss of his body, and with it the difficulties normally imposed on man. He inflicted upon himself a self-imposed exile from the world of man – the world of language – an isolation of unprecedented magnitude: The Silent Vigil.

But understanding alone does not grant new power, only a complete and whole conceptualization of your innate and static power in all of its applications, and limitations. This is what so angered Athanasios – the primal hurt of having a dream and knowing you can’t achieve it. So he underachieved.

The ultimate trick of the universe is its simplicity; the ultimate irony is with the complexity it has been attributed. That complexity is the work of that which is more deserving of the attribution evil than any other force at work – Chaos. Chaos eradicates reality by complicating it beyond comprehension. Once it ceases to make sense – loses the ability to be perceived – it winks out of existence.

Love is pure, and simple, and honest and true. It makes two people feel as one, an entire family feel as one – a whole community, an entire world. It connects – breaks down barriers, destroys the vastness of space and the longevity of time. It simplifies – is simple – is the truth.

Hate is impure, for it is the manifestation of a lack of understanding. It is complicated, for it divides. It makes people feel alone, exist as individuals, infinitely dividing reality into competition. It increases the vastness of space, amplifies the duration of time. It is complex – justified by an infinite litany of events and prejudices and biases and mis-attributions and failed communications and on and on and on.

Words complicate. Are not the truest loves unspoken? They exist beyond and without and in spite of language. The truest loves exist as what you could only call an intuitive knowing – there are no words to describe such love, such truth.

All of us here are fallen from grace. We thought we loved, thought we were in love. Seth with Sara, Sara with Seth and then with you, you with Sara and then with existence. Me with Xaos, Xaos with me and then with Cyril, Cyril with Xaos and then with hatred. The truth is, we were united by a different emotion, by envy. We wanted love, thought maybe we were in love, but we did not understand it. We over-complicated it, over-thought it, nearly made it incomprehensible. We did make it incomprehensible. We analyzed it out of existence for ourselves.

We are united by a wound, by a blasphemy against truth. For we committed the worst sin, profaned the name of the simplest and purest force in the universe with our vandalizing words and defacing phrases, with our insulting thoughts.

The original sin was when man began inventing his own realities, his own framework to understand the world by – good, evil, love, hate, morals, justice, God, and on and on. The ultimate crime was the arrogance to perpetuate and make eternal this system – even after learning the absolute truth of the composition of reality and its truest, simplest laws. The justification for this decision was the entirely misguided and egotistical delusion that man’s framework was better than the ultimate simplicity – and the ultimate criminal was Xaos.

Athanasios reasoned that the situation was helpless: the entrenched nature of language, made eternal by the blight of Chaos upon the universe…his dream of a humanity free from its self-imposed shackles was beyond his individual power to assure. This manifested in dread, in a fall from understanding, and he misguidedly decided – using a framework of his own thought, steeped as it was in language – that his best course of action to simplify the situation, to arrive back at the origin, was to eliminate man.

But unnatural death, like hate, only complicates. Those that are left behind are inconsolable as they try, and fail, to grasp the rationale of the deaths of loved ones. The only rationale that can be imposed finds its birth in words, in language – which betray the very tenets of reality that the begrieved so desperately seek to understand. And slowly, the world becomes more and more incomprehensible, until…. And in this way, Athanasios was only unwittingly doing the work of Chaos.

And what of Seth Vidar, the other figure who truly understands the nature of things? Words fail me now, for I myself lack his understanding. And even with that unspoken understanding, the best one can muster is an unreal clarity of articulation – which itself is a lie when compared to the absolute truth. So here are the blasphemous metaphors that will stand in place of real understanding, stand side by side with the ones already used up until this point:

Chaos sustains itself by the symbiotic, parasitic relationship between Xaos’ dead body – which even now bleeds Chaos – and Eternity, which filters it throughout the entire universe. Eternity is truly beyond words – its purposes, the secrets of its workings, one cannot even begin to think of words to suffice. And you possess the Eternity Tear, a small fragment of what should have been. Using this, Seth Vidar can restore us back to the point of origin.

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Division By Zero

[Author’s Note: This was written in the height of my condition, as a sequel to this piece. I have not edited it (though I did add a picture), choosing even to leave the lack of capitalization and so forth. When it was written, it was composed in NotePad and meant to be edited later. Later never came, however, as by the next day I was already in the hospital.]

What is dividing by zero?

mathematically speaking, if you divide anything by zero, you always arrive at zero. considering my goal is to take you to step zero, dividing by zero is the most efficient way to do that.

in other terms, dividing by zero is the process of separating those who are at step zero from those who are not. those who come after zero are thinking freely and those who come before zero are thinking like slaves. this is the best way I can think of for me to encode the message I intend for you, but what I say is ultimately irrelevant. the only thing that matters (for you) is what you hear, and then, what you choose. this is only one way to apply the mental model I have outlined, however. there are other ways.

most people believe that they are slaves. historically, most people have had difficulty getting past this step, no matter how many different times “I” have come to show them the truth. who am I? just another person, like you. but so too was Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mohammed, Nietsche, Plato and Aristotle (Plato informed Jesus, mind you, and neither were as effective – this is because they focused on the details rather than the whole) and countless other historical figures who have tried to encode the same message in many different languages for you. ultimately the encoding is irrelevant because reality is created through the decoding process of communication. that is why I have chosen to abbreviate my name even further, so that my name does not get in the way of my message.

Decoding is the process of building reality. This may be the only universal truth there is. It may not even be universally true, but, I have not encountered a counter-example or evidence that runs counter to this theory. In fact, every single thing I observe seems to lend itself naturally to the idea that decoding is the process of building reality. as I have said earlier, this vision is not new – many people hearing it, however, would be.

J? Who is J? Who cares about someone calling themself J? Exactly. There are no tricks here. I am not charging you any money and I am not forcing you to hear me. Rather, I am spelling this out for you as clearly as possible with as little noise as possible.

This is simpler than it sounds. If you do not want to hear what I am saying, then you will be unable to hear it, literally. If, on the other hand, you actively want to hear what I have to say, because belief in something compels you to – belief in your power to accurately decode messages, belief in my power to encode them, belief in

I cannot tell you what your reality should be or what its limits are. I can only tell you that you are the ultimate authority when it comes to your reality. I can offer suggestions – like how you should avoid trying impose your reality on other people who are unwilling to accept it – but I can’t control you unless you agree to let me control you, unless you acquiesce and submit to my reality. but then, you would jump right back onto the negative number line – not necessarily a problem, since it is possible to be happy on the negative scale as well. in fact I think most women are truly happy when they are on the negative number scale mated with a man who is their match on the positive number scale: a -3 matched to a +3, a -49 matched to a +49, a -91088 to a +91088. this is a generalized observation but accurately predicting utopia is probably impossible. however this idea is not dissimilar to ideas that have come before expressing the same concept in different terms – yin and yang, opposites attract, balance, anima and animus. i am not breaking new ground here. the only thing that would be new is if people actually started listening to this idea rather than merely hearing it.

nations are attempts to construct shared realities. everyone gets together and decides, for instance, that 7 sounds like a great way to live. everyone involved with the nation at the start firmly believe in 7 with a belief so powerful and unshaking that these people are willing to sacrifice everything for that belief.

I believe in the power of dividing by zero with the same kind of fervor. it is not my place to advocate a number that will work for everyone. it may be my place to pave the way for some other person to advocate such a number – in that sense I am more like John the Baptist than I am like Jesus. Did I ever tell you that it would not be inaccurate to refer to me as John the Erstwhile Baptist? names are just a convenient way of remembering who a person is anyway, and are only as useful as they are memorable. remember me by whatever name you would like. i have been known in my life by many.

in any case problems with nations arise as competing ideas enter the system. some people think 6 and 8 would be great ideas and since they are so close to 7 it seems like you can work them in without breaking the system. this works – though less perfectly than 7 did by itself – until a nation reaches the stage where it has overcomplicated itself by adding and subtracting too much, perverting the original ideal form. then people start legitimately suggesting the nation take the exact opposite state it was spawned as: in our example, people would suggest it become -7 rather than 7.

since a nation is, at base, a group of people agreeing on a common reality to adopt, the stress of mentally trying to become one’s opposite is too great for the majority of people who started as 23’s to bear; the nation became too accepting of competing ideas and collapses under the weight of trying to do too much for too many. a nation need not acquiese to everyone in order to be tolerant of competing ideas. that being said, performing such a mental swap is not an impossibility, but most people lack the communication skills to understand how realities are structured and to understand that reality is fluid. this is why i say choice is binary and why there are an infinite number of omegas or end states.

another problem: we do not select the nation we are born in. the nation tries very hard to convince us that it is the best thing for us. but if we are truly a 91088 and the nation we are born in is only a 7, then trying to adapt ourselves to the nation will be endlessly painful. dividing by zero resets reality and allows you to begin constructing anew.

alpha is being at step 0, because if you are at step 0, you understand that the world is literally your play thing. it is the step where you MUST assert yourself – as we understand alphas are wont to do – in order to establish a comfortable reality. but it is not a permanent or stable state of being, as we have also recognized. a more permanent state of being is omega. i purposely chose this term because it is loaded and probably misunderstood by most people. that is your problem, not mine.

i could go on but this is more than enough to understand. anymore would be “preaching to the choir” or “beating a dead horse.”

if none of that made sense, then allow me to part with this:

dividing by zero means whatever you think it means. i know it’s scary, but you might have to actually decide something for yourself for the first time in your life. it’s okay. it probably won’t kill you.

if you understand how to divide by zero then surely you will understand this – right now, I am as morpheus and you are as neo. however, just because I am morpheus right now and you are neo right now, that does not mean I will always be morpheus nor will you always be neo. in fact it is entirely possible you will become morpheus and you will find your own neo. i rather hope that this is the case. there is strength in numbers, after all.

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Applying ToT to the USMC

EDIT: I only discovered this after writing the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierpinski_triangle

I mentioned that the Theory of Three allows for infinite progression and infinite regression, and I mean to demonstrate that with this post. We’ll take the Marine Corps as our example. First, let’s take a look at the Marine Corps using the chain of command:Now, I didn’t break apart every single command. First, I broke apart the golden ones, until we get to the interesting part of the operating forces – the Marine Expeditionary Forces (or MEFs). These represent the bulk of the Marine Corps. Each MEF consists of an infantry Division (DIV), a Marine Air Wing (MAW), and a Marine Logistics Group (MLG). Each Division is comprised of three infantry regiments, which in turn are comprised of three infantry battalions, which in turn are comprised of three infantry companies. That’s 27 infantry companies per division, if you’re keeping track. Each MAW consists of three Air Groups, which are composed of three or more Squadrons, which are further broken down into Sections. Each MLG consists of three Combat Logistics Regiments, which in turn consist of three or more battalions, which then consist of three or more companies.

Whew. There’s lots of threes at work here, if you didn’t notice. Let’s see what happens when we apply ToT at the Unified Combat Command level:

The Unified Combat Command is the center triangle, and the most important. To simplify things, we’ve skipped “Marine Forces Command” and “Marine Forces Pacific” and got to the meat and potatoes – the MEFs. Here, the Unified Combat Command is an idea which is basically defined by the three different MEFs; were I to draw UCC as a single triangle, each side would be a MEF. Similarly, each MEF is defined by a DIV, MAW, and MLG. Each of those are in turn defined by the red triangles that surround them; however, there wasn’t enough resolution to continue drawing distinctions.

Rather than draw out a diagram of every DIV, MAW, and MLG, we will simply be zooming in on one DIV. (The concept applies to all three, anyway, and there isn’t much structural difference between DIVs, MAWs, and MLGs.) Here’s the diagram:

Here, the triangle for the I DIV takes center stage, and is defined by three regiments. The regiments in turn are defined by three battalions. The thing we want to remember here is that we could draw any of these elements as a single triangle; when I draw a “regiment,” each side of the triangle represents a battalion. When I draw a division, each side of the triangle represents a regiment. These diagrams demonstrate how ToT can scale infinitely.

The battalion takes center stage here, and is defined by three separate companies. The companies, in turn, are defined by three platoons. I think you can see where this is going, but I want to drive the concept all the way to the individual Marine.Battalions have three companies of three platoons. Drillin’ on down:Here we see our form – every gold triangle in this picture represents an individual Marine. One thing I’ve been tossing around in my head is that the downward facing triangles we’ve been examining (the labeled ones) represent an additional element in their groups. For example, a Fire Team is made up of three individual Marines, PLUS the Fire Team Leader. This would be in keeping with how the Marine Corps is currently organized – fire teams have four Marines. The added element at the Squad level would be a Squad Leader; a Platoon Commander (1st or 2nd Lieutenant) at the Platoon level, and so on. Anyway, I wanted to drill down further:Here we see that we can drill down to the essence of a Marine – Honor, Courage, and Commitment – and even beyond that, and begin talking about what makes HCC.

I don’t have the time currently to discuss any more particulars about this, so I’ll just leave it at that for now and return to these ideas another day.

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Everything and Nothing; The Rule of 0

Let’s touch briefly on metaphysics, shall we? Try to imagine everything that exists. If you’re anything like me, you do this systemically – beginning with your own home, then extending outward to larger and larger spheres.
You may have more or less circles. You might include more details – your apartment, your apartment complex, your street, your block, your neighborhood…and so on. Eventually, however, you come up against the largest distinction that you can make, the distinction between “everything (that exists)” and “nothing.” And it is this distinction which I’d like to examine more fully.
Everything bounds nothing; nothing bounds everything. It is common to draw a distinction between these two things, to say that they are fundamentally opposed. The diagrams I have provided also model them as being opposed. But what if we considered them equal? We cannot say that everything is greater than, or less than, nothing. (Space, by the way, is not “nothing,” even though some think that way. “Nothing” would be beyond the edges of the known universe – but it may be that there is something else way out there, in which case, nothing is beyond that.)

As I stated when discussing the Theory of Three, one can use a line to represent an idea; indeed, one can use a line to represent any idea. Lines, after all, are just symbols. Therefore, a single line can represent the idea of anything, everything, or nothing. A line is equal to infinity, as it could represent an infinite number of ideas. If this is so, designing a system that could process infinite detail would be beneficial.This system for grouping ideas can scale infinitely; it allows for infinite progression and infinite regression. I’ll demonstrate this concept using the Marine Corps in a future post.

With shapes, we can give lines a greater purpose. However, the most basic shape (as in, the one with the least number of sides) happens to be the most preferable. I’ll elaborate on that in future posts. The key concept to remember here is what I call the Rule of 0. The Rule of 0 is pretty simple – just remember 0. Why would we want to do that? Well, normally, people say “1 + 2 = 3” and we all assume that we are starting from a point of nothing. But we could be starting from somewhere else, say, 45, in which case (45 +) 1 + 2 = 48. This is obviously unconventional, but when using the Theory of Three, it is extremely helpful to remember 0, or you could get lost:

Think of 0 as our canvas of nothing upon which we can paint everything (or our canvas of everything upon which we can paint nothing, if you prefer). I will write more about 0 in the next post.

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Origins of the Theory of Three

A few months ago, I tried to solve a problem which was beyond the scope of my capabilities. That problem was the chain of command. Here is a crude rendering of the chain of command:

The red rectangle at the top represents the highest element, with red arrows representing commands issued from that element. Green elements are subordinate to red but issue their own commands to the blue elements, which then pile on to the lowest level workers/soldiers/Marines. Even though it is convenient to think that the buck stops somewhere (i.e., LtCol Soandso is the commanding officer of 3rd Thinking Battalion), in reality, everybody in the military has a boss to report to. If you follow the chain all the way up you could argue it stops with the President, but he is (in theory) answerable to the people. In any event, when you’re a low rank (let’s say E3 or Lance Corporals and below – I use USMC jargon), like our lowly triangle, you pretty much get shat on all the time. There are very few (if any) effective ways to communicate grievances upward. At times, it may even be difficult to communicate mission-oriented information upward.

Most Lance Corporals and below live in relative fear of their Corporals and Sergeants and have little to no face time with anybody more senior than that. There are very few channels to properly approach a more senior person, and even though many will offer an “open door policy,” such a policy is tongue-in-cheek because they also advise that one “use the chain of command first,” which means going to those very same Corporals and Sergeants that might be causing the problems. So, what do you do?

Well, as I suggested here, you could alter the chain of command a bit by creating a billet that deals specifically with communicating the needs/grievances/etc of the Lance Corporals and below up the chain of command. I’ll borrow the graphic from that post so you can see what such a chain would look like:

This idea didn’t fly. I was told to think of a less “revolutionary” idea and a more “evolutionary” idea. And that’s just what I did. I examined the individual Marine – what were the essential ingredients that made a Marine? Well, this is an easy question for a Marine – we’d go straight to our Core Values. Marines have Honor, Courage, and Commitment. In a sudden burst of insight, I realized that’s all a Marine would ever need (given a little reconceptualizing). How is this? The Marine Corps could instill the Core Values in boot camp, but then have follow on training tie in with these values. So rather than worry about “job proficiencies,” you learn about what Honor, Courage and Commitment mean to an infantryman, what they mean to an air-winger, and what they mean to a maintainer. Thus were the beginnings of the theory of three:

The circles represent contexts that a Marine could exist in – such as infantry, air wing, and maintenance – and the picture demonstrates that, at least theoretically, there should exist values for A, B, and C that satisfy any context. So, how would one best group together Marines? Well, for one, I realized the chain of command already pretty much looked like a giant triangle.

As you can see from my crude paint edit, the triangular form was there, lurking. Which is good news; we want members of an organization to identify with that organization, so if we model individuals as triangles and the group ends up being a super triangle, then that’s fantastic. Let’s take a look at what 3 Marines look like in a grouping:

I figured that grouping the individuals into a shape they already represented made the most sense. To elaborate, our “Marines” here are already triangles, and identify themselves as such. Therefore, it would be easier for them to identify with a “triangular” group. This grouping also models synergism, demonstrating that it is highly effective – 1 + 1 + 1 = 5. (Somewhere around here I discovered some other things and went a little bit off the deep end.) Here’s where things get a little wonky.

This grouping effect can repeat infinitely. So far, each line has represented Honor, Courage, or Commitment when it comes to our triangles. But once you’ve “mastered” the concept of a Marine and a Marine grouping, you can represent an ideal Marine with just one line. Therefore, each triangle you draw becomes a group, and you throw three triangles together to create a larger group (such as a squad, on to a platoon, to a company, to a battalion, and so on). Really, though, throwing three triangles together may be an unnecessary step (but it helps one conceptually):

Here we see the same idea represented two ways – one with the “Tri-Force” approach, and one with the dotted lines. The dotted lines don’t -need- to be there; this is the same group/idea of a group being modeled. Those lines demonstrate the exploded value of each of the lines of the triangle. They signify “hey, this is a loaded concept! If you do not understand this group, let me explode it out for you.” Below is a picture that also represents the infinitely repeating nature of this concept:

The thing that gave me pause for consideration about this idea – and something I may expound upon later – is that a lot of concepts come at us in threes. Honor/Courage/Commitment was already there for me to take, but here are some other ones off the top of my head: life, liberty and pursuit of happiness; father, mother, child (family); the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There’s a lot of logic working behind the scenes with this idea (namely, syllogisms) which makes me wonder if perhaps this is the eternal form – being that any idea/argument can be postulated and drawn as a single line, or one of the sides of this triangle. Remember that argument forms may be valid even if their contents are false. Another interesting observation was that the “TriForce” grouping has twelve lines – lots of symbolism there.

The Theory of Three, as I call it, could be used to model some powerful stuff – like belief. But it seems to be lacking in a practical application, because groups do not yet organize themselves this way.

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Military Communication: Problems, Precedents and Solutions

A. Background Premises

1. While the Marine Corps is a unique war-fighting organization with a unique mission and capability, it is important to remember that it is still ultimately an organization. As such, it is susceptible to the same structural problems that any other organization is susceptible to, especially when it comes to organizational communication. Because the Marine Corps is a unique organization, it has unique communication needs.

2. America, and indeed the world, is entering a new era of rapid communications technologies that change the way we live, work, play, and fight wars. Per reference (1), “Most of us seek a firm direction that is outmoded. We need new thinking, new criticisms, new knowledge, new approaches, and new understandings. Creativity is more important than ever.” We have become an information society, which is “an environment in which more jobs create, process, or distribute information than directly produce goods,” and this change has impacted the military as well.

3. Reliable, timely and accurate communication is the key to organizational excellence and should therefore be a top priority for the Marine Corps. Per reference (1), “Numerous scholars have gone as far as to suggest that organizations are essentially complex communication processes that create and change events…Put simply, organizations of today and tomorrow need competent communicators at all organizational levels.”

4. Difficult problems sometimes require unconventional thinking. Daniel Pink, bestselling author and conceptual thinker, writes “the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers.” Modern technologies have overloaded organizations with too much information; many require people with a different tool set to make sense of all this information.

5. Specifically, problems related to communication have been effecting not only Electronics Maintenance Company, but potentially 3d Maintenance Battalion as well. It is not unreasonable to assume that communication problems may be effecting other units within the Marine Corps as well.

B. Organizational Communication

1. Per reference (1), “Organizing is an attempt to bring order out of chaos or establish organizations, entities in which purposeful and ordered activity takes place…the process we call organizing is accomplished through human communication as individuals seek to bring order out of chaos and establish entities for purposeful activities.” Communication is central to organizing.

2. Aside from individual communication competencies, which have their own unique challenges and solutions, organizational communication presents yet more unique difficulties. Organizational communication, per reference (1), is the “process through which organizations are created and in turn create and shape events. The process can be understood as a combination of process, people, messages, meaning, and purpose.” The Marine Corps is an organization devoted to the art of warfare; we are an organization which seeks to impose order on a naturally chaotic state (war) – as such, efficient and effective organizational communication is paramount to success.

3. Per reference (1), organizational communication as a process involves “creating and transmitting organizational messages [which] reflect the shared realities resulting from previous message exchanges,” a process which “evolves to generate new realities that create and shape events.” In other words, organizational communication strives to create common meanings and purposes – the Marine Corps already has established guidelines in this regard (initial training, the Core Values, ethical guidelines) but beyond initial training the degree to which they are maintained is variable.

4. Per reference (1), organizational communication involves individuals: “Individuals bring to organizations sets of characteristics that influence how information is processed…it is fair to say that organizational communication occurs across networks of people who seek to obtain a variety of objectives requiring communication interactions.” Per reference (2), “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” and a weak communicator contributes to weakened communications up and down the chain of command.

5. Per reference (1), organizational communication depends upon “the movement or transmission of verbal and nonverbal behaviors and the sharing of information throughout the organization….Concern is expressed for message fidelity, or the extent to which messages are similar or accurate at all links through the channels.” This concept is not foreign to the Marine Corps; ethical guidelines (especially the second reference) mention the importance of such fidelity.

6. Per reference (1), organizational communication requires meaning: “Organizational communication is the symbolic behavior of individuals and organizations that, when interpreted, affects all organizational activities.” Furthermore, organizational communication has a unique purpose: “[it] seeks to reduce environmental uncertainty. It is people, messages, and meanings. It is intentional and unintentional messages explaining the workings of the organization. It is the process through which individuals attempt goal-oriented behavior in dealing with their environments.”

C. Functional Problems & Org. Communication

1. All organizations face similar problems with organizational communication, so before analyzing the Marine Corps (or any specific sub-organizations, such as 3D Maintenance Battalion, within the Marine Corps) it is instructive to analyze organizational communication problems in general. Such problems may be similar in character if not exactly in detail.

2. Open communication systems thrive in comparison to closed communication systems. Per reference (1), open systems are “organizations that continually take in new information, transform that information, and give information back…” while closed systems are “organizations that lack input communication, making it difficult to make good decisions and stay current with the needs of the environment.” Furthermore, “without appropriate change, organizational systems stagnate and die.”

3. Communication channels, per reference (1), are “the means for the transmission of messages. Common means are face-to-face interaction, group meetings, memos, letters, computer-mediated exchanges, web sites, presentations, and teleconferencing.” Proper selection and utilization of various channels – as well as the creation of new channels which “speed information transfer and shorten decision-making response time,” are organizational priorities.

4. Messages in an organization can move in one of three directions – upward, downward, or horizontally. It should be noted, per reference (1), that “information flow cannot always be described in terms of specific direction,” because “informal network flow such as the grapevine…may move both vertically and horizontally, all within the transmission of one message.” In strict hierarchical structures like the military, a systemic bias for downward communication is present, while upward communication is notoriously difficult and unreliable. This is discussed in more detail below.

5. Communication load is an important consideration. Communication load, per reference (1), is “the volume, rate, and complexity of messages processed by an individual or the organization as a whole.” Furthermore, there can be three load conditions: specifically, optimal load, underload (wherein individuals are relegated to performing mundane tasks due to lack of new information input) and overload (where the load has exceeded system or individual capacity). One danger of ever expanding communications technologies is that we, as a society, may be fast approaching a situation of “permanent overload in many jobs, a situation that actually impairs rather than strengthens the decision making process.”

6. A final important general consideration is that of message distortion. Distortion is, per reference (1), “anything that contributes to alterations in meanings as messages move through the organization.” Distortions can occur for a variety of reasons, due to “load, message direction, channel usage, and the very composition of the [communication] networks themselves.” Furthermore, “organizational communication is characterized by the serial transmission of messages,” whereby a message is created from a source of authority and passes to a subordinate, who then undergoes a role transition and acts an authority to pass the message on to yet another subordinate, and so on down the chain of command. “Research consistently finds that original messages change or are distorted in the serial transmission process.” Language is a contributing factor to distortion, as “definitions of terms and concepts vary throughout the organization.” It is no exaggeration to say that distortion is inevitable and unavoidable.

7. Other functional problems exist with organizational communication, but have been left undisclosed in the interest of brevity. Should it be required, additional documentation shall be provided on other functional problems. For example, message function and structure; the role of organizing, relationship and change functions for messages; and the movement of messages through formal and informal networks are some of the topics that could be considered.

D. Meaning-Centered Problems & Org. Communication

1. A meaning-centered approach to communication, in contrast with a functional approach, per reference (1) “describes organizational communication as the process for generated shared realities that become organizing, decision making, sense-making, influence, and culture.” These concepts tie directly into Marine Corps priorities of developing a warrior ethos and abiding by the core values, per references (2) and (3). As such, these concepts warrant consideration.

2. Per reference (1), key assumptions of a meaning-centered approach to understanding organizational communication include the following premises: “Organizational cultures and subcultures reflect the shared realities in the organization and how these realities create and shape organizational events,” and “Communication climate is the subjective, evaluative reaction of organization members to the organization’s communication events, their reaction to organizational culture.” In other words, Marine Corps culture (“esprit de corps”) reflects the shared realities of the Marines in the Corps, and these realities create and shape events (be it by successfully maintaining gear, or winning wars). Furthermore, communication climate (or “command climate”) is the sum reaction of many Marines’ subjective response to command communications, which has an impact on Marine Corps culture (or “esprit de corps”).

3. Organizing can be understood as an attempt at reducing ambiguity by promoting reliable meanings. Per reference (1), “organizational members use rules and communication cycles to continually process…equivocal messages or messages susceptible to varying interpretations…. The main goal of the process of organizing is an attempt to reduce equivocality – ambiguity – in order to predict future responses to organizational behaviors.” Examples of this in the Marine Corps range from desktops and turnovers in the maintenance community to aid in job training and performance to rules regarding proper posture when speaking with seniors (parade rest and the position of attention). Furthermore, performance evaluations (such as proficiency and conduct ratings) can be understood as attempts to reduce ambiguity about job performance, per reference (1): “Supervisors reduce equivocality for their employees by the organizing of work assignments and the communication of task requirements… The supervisor understands what the employee believed the assignment to be by evaluating what was accomplished. The feedback to the employee (often in the form of rewards or punishment) reduces uncertainty about the adequacy of performance.”

4. Influence (as defined in reference (1): “organizational and individual attempts to persuade; frequently seen in organizational identification, socialization, communication rules, and power”) is a powerful tool to achieve organizational goals. Per reference (1), “who and what are viewed as influential, the way people seek to influence others, and how people respond to influence all contribute to organizing and decision making.” People “are more likely to be receptive to influence attempts in organizations with which [they] identify or have a sense of “we” or belonging.” In other words, Marines are more likely to respond to influence by the Marine Corps if the Marines identify more solidly with the Marine Corps. Identification is defined in reference (1) as the “dynamic social process by which identities are constructed; indicates perceptions of a sense of belonging. Usually associated with the belief that individual and organizational goals are compatible.”

5. Organizations tend to encourage identification through socialization; per reference (1), there are three major stages of socialization: anticipatory socialization, encounter socialization, and metamorphosis socialization. These will be analyzed in turn.

6. Anticipatory socialization, per reference (1), “begins before individuals enter organizations and results from past work experiences and interactions with family, friends, and institutions such as schools, churches, or social organizations.” Indeed, as reference (3) acknowledges, all Marines come from humble origins: “Our ethos has been shaped by ordinary men and women — heroes who showed extraordinary leadership and courage, both physical and moral, as they shaped the special character that is the essence of our Corps. They are heroes and leaders who are remembered not by their names, or rank, or because they received a decoration for valor. They are remembered because they were Marines.” Becoming a Marine begins before entering the Marine Corps, when the would-be Marine begins to consider the idea, talks with recruiters, and reads or otherwise thinks about being a Marine; this is anticipatory socialization.

7. Encounter socialization, per reference (1), “involves new employee training, supervisor coaching, peer groups, and formal organizational documents.” In other words, this is the training stage of a Marine’s career. The Marine Corps has an excellent training program, as per reference (3): “Marines undergo a personal transformation at recruit training. There, they receive more than just superb training; they are ingrained with a sense of service, honor, and discipline. It is there, as a former recruit depot Commanding General said, that Marines develop a sense of brotherhood, interdependence, and determination to triumph.”

8. Metamorphosis socialization, per reference (1), “occurs when the newcomer begins to master basic organizational requirements and adjust to the organization.” Personal speculation as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that metamorphosis socialization may be a problem in the Marine Corps; [The CO of ELMACO] has mused, for instance, why it seems to be that Marines lose their motivation between initial training and their first duty station.

9. Other meaning-centered problems exist with organizational communication, but have been left undisclosed in the interest of brevity. Should it be required, additional documentation shall be provided on other meaning-centered problems. For example, power, communication as culture, and further analysis of communication climate are some of the topics that could be considered.

E. Supervisor/Subordinate Relations, Peers, & Motivation

1. Per reference (1), “an individual’s relationship with his or her supervisor is one of the most important of the primary communication experiences in organizational life. It is so important, in fact, that the quality of this relationship usually determines how the individual identifies with the organization as well as the individual’s job and organizational satisfaction. Communication experiences with supervisors and peers are so influential that they contribute to the quality and quantity of an individual’s work.” In other words, an individual Marine’s ability to identify with the Marine Corps and live the core values is directly impacted by their relationship with their superiors; additionally, the quality of that Marine’s work is also impacted.

2. Per reference (1), “individuals who are satisfied with organizational communication experiences are more likely to be effective performers and to be satisfied with their jobs than those who have less positive communication relationships.” Reference (3) has another way of stating the same phenomenon: “…leaders must have the respect of their followers. If followers do not believe their leader is operating from a foundation of values, then words become hollow and lack credibility and the leader will be ineffective.”

3. Motivating subordinates (or, Marines) is a notoriously complex subject, but it generally falls to the supervisor to motivate the subordinate in any organization. One theory of motivation worth mentioning is the rewards theory, first professed by B.F. Skinner. Per reference (1), rewards are defined as “positive feedback or tangible reinforcements for organizational behaviors,” or more simply, rewarding Marines for being good Marines. It is worth mentioning that Frederick Herzberg proposes that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not polar opposites; per reference (1), “what produces dissatisfaction in the work environment, if corrected, will not necessarily produce satisfaction or motivation.”

4. Gerald Salanick and Jeffrey Pfeffer have a theory of motivation that, per reference (1), “suggest[s] three basic determinates of attitudes or needs: (1) the individual’s perception of the job or task characteristics, (2) information the social environment provides to the individual about what attitudes are appropriate…and (3) the individual’s perception of the reasons for his or her past behaviors.” Moreover, “Salanick and Pfeffer identify four ways in which social information influences attitudes: (1) overt, evaluative statements of coworkers directly shape individual worker attitudes; (2) frequent talk among coworkers about certain dimensions of the job and work environment focus attention on what is considered to be important or salient in the work setting; (3) information from coworkers, or social information, helps an individual worker interpret and assign meaning to environmental cues and events in the work setting; and finally, (4) social information influences the way an individual interprets his or her own needs. Thus…job attitudes are a result of social information in the work setting coupled with the consequences of past individual choices.” In other words, the way Marines treat one another and talk to one another may have untold impacts on how that Marine perceives either his or herself, his or her unit and his or her Corps.

5. Other supervisor/subordinate and motivation related problems exist with organizational communication, but have been left undisclosed in the interest of brevity. Should it be required, additional documentation shall be provided on other meaning-centered problems. For example, the pervasive nature of supervisor/subordinate relationships, the amount of time spent communicating between supervisors and subordinates, and gaps in the expectations between supervisors and subordinates are some of the topics that could be considered.

F. Communication Apprehension and Upward Distortion

1. The Marine Corps recognizes the importance of upward organizational communication, as per reference (3): “Subordinates should use the chain of command, but ideas must rise to the top.” Moreover, “leaders should make it their duty to bring subordinates’ ideas and criticisms to the surface where all may analyze and evaluate them.” Yet problems with reliable, timely, and accurate upward communication exist in all organizations. Generally, these problems may have their root in the phenomenon known as communication apprehension.

2. Per reference (1), communication apprehension (or CA) is defined as “the predisposition for behavior described as an individual’s level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with others.” Moreover, “CA has been found to be meaningfully associated with such important organizational outcomes as occupation choice, perception of competence, job satisfaction, advancement, and job retention.” As such, CA merits further consideration.

3. Per reference (1), “Marilyn Hunt (1992) found that individuals reporting high-quality relationships with their supervisors were more likely to…conform to formal and informal requests, to attempt to clarify expectations, and to accept criticism from supervisors than were individuals reporting lower-quality relationships.” In other words, positive working relationships reduce CA and, furthermore, positively benefit Marines and the Marine Corps.

4. In contrast to paragraph 3, and per reference (1), negative working relationships have negative impacts: “…perceptions [of supervisors] influenced how much employees reported sharing information, ideas, and resources with work group peers. In other words, the less favorable the relationship with the supervisor, the more likely individuals were to withhold information even from peers.” CA can distort not only upward communication, but also horizontal communication, with important implications for mission accomplishment. If, for example, a Marine discovers a superior method for getting the job done, but due to communication apprehension resulting from negative working relationships refuses to share it with fellow Marines, the Marine Corps fails to benefit from this innovation and initiative.

5. Per reference (1), “Paul Krivonos (1982) summarized many of the findings about upward communication in the following four categories: (1) subordinates tend to distort upward information, saying what they think will please their supervisors; (2) subordinates tend to filter information and tell their supervisors what they, the subordinates, want them to know; (3) subordinates often tell supervisors what they think the supervisors want to hear; and (4) subordinates tend to pass personally favorable information to supervisors while not transmitting information that reflects negatively on themselves.” Moreover, “Janet Fulk and Sirish Mani (1986) suggested that the perception of supervisors’ downward communication, or the extent to which supervisors are perceived as actively withholding information, influences the accuracy of upward messages. The more the supervisor withholds, the more employees withhold and distort.” In a chain as lengthy and complex as the Marine Corps’ chain of command, nearly infinite opportunities for distortion and withholding exist.

6. Per reference (1), “when a positivity bias distorts upward communication, supervisors may not receive timely information about problems. Thus, needed information about innovation and change may be slow in coming, particularly if the supervisor is perceived as resistant to new ideas.” In other words, ineffective upward communication limits the effectiveness of higher-level decision making.

7. Biased upward communication may lead to abuses of power. Per reference (1), “the supervisor has the formal authority of the chain of command. The supervisor controls information flow and performance evaluation. Employees control technical performance and have vital firsthand information about the progress of work. Both are dependent on each other; the supervisor directs, but without compliance and performance, no work is accomplished. If the supervisor becomes abusive in directing the work, an employee group may seek alternatives by withdrawing from interaction with the supervisor or withholding information the supervisor needs to make good decisions. At an extreme the employee group may complain to others in management, transfer to other departments, or leave the organization.” In an organization like the Marine Corps, where the option to easily transfer to “other departments” or leave the organization do not feasibly exist, abuse of power may contribute to rising suicide rates as Marines feel suicide is their “only way out.”

8. Other communication apprehension and upward distortion related problems exist with organizational communication, but have been left undisclosed in the interest of brevity. Should it be required, additional documentation shall be provided on other CA and distortion problems. For example, the biasing effect of peer groups, romantic relationships and interpersonal relationships within an organization are some of the topics that could be considered.

G. Immediate Solution; Benefits and Risks

1. Given the problems discussed above and the background premises introduced, innovation is required. As such, it is my recommendation that ELMACO immediately create a “Communications NCO” billet; a dedicated “communications expert” to mitigate identified problems.

2. Figure 1 provides a basic outline of how the ELMACO Communications NCO would “fit-in” with the current chain of command. In a sense, it can be said the chain of command is completed by the addition of this billet. Whereas the chain of command has always provided relatively effective downward communication, as established elsewhere in this paper, it has had difficulty establishing equally effective upward communication. By providing a means for reliable upward communication, the Communications NCO billet “completes” the chain of command. Furthermore, the billet may help bolster downward communication by providing another effective channel for commanders to utilize.

3. The Communications NCO would be focused upon neutral, unbiased reporting of command-identified valuable information in a timely, reliable manner. As such, the Communications NCO would not be held accountable for positive or negative reports, but rather, the emphasis would be placed upon accurate reports. The Communication NCO would be held accountable for failure to maintain integrity in reporting the facts and for knowingly biasing communications.

4. The new billet provides several potential benefits, which will be named in this paragraph and discussed more in-depth in following paragraphs. In no particular order, the billet would provide a means to frequently and accurate gauge command climate; to reinforce Core Values, ethics, reliable communications, and training efforts towards these ends; to provide information to higher commands in a rapid manner; and to prove proof of concept for future development of Marine Corps communication structures.

5. The Communications NCO billet could establish a variety of procedures and methods for assessing command climate in a frequent and reliable manner, for example, through anonymous surveys. Because the Communications NCO would be evaluated for reporting accurate information as opposed to positive or negative information, communication apprehension when reporting information up the chain would be significantly reduced. Such a billet could potentially provide commanders with an immediate, reliable pulse on morale and welfare, with benefits for decision making impacting all levels. Moreover, the Communications NCO would be able to assist in increasing motivation while simultaneously providing commanders an increased ability to recognize and reward outstanding achievement.

6. The Communications NCO billet could assist in buffeting efforts to maintain high standards of ethical conduct and training. Additionally, such a billet stands to mitigate problems with metamorphosis socialization as described in section D paragraphs 5 & 8 by assisting the command in creating messages aimed at increasing identification with the Marine Corps and the unit as discussed in section D paragraph 4.

7. Per reference (1), “the greater the degree of socialization, the more likely individuals will respond favorably to organizational persuasion. In fact, little doubt remains that socialization relates to organizational commitment, decision making, perceptions of communications climate, and overall job satisfaction.” A commitment to improve metamorphosis socialization (in other words, emphasis on ethics and core values training) beyond initial training in a Marine’s career may yield positive benefits in the form of retention increases, better leaders, more productive command climates, and a more motivated cadre of Marines.

8. The Communications NCO billet could furthermore foster increased awareness of the importance of communication competency in daily tasks, and, moreover, provide relevant training aids to the command in order to raise aforementioned competencies. It may be unrealistic to expect all Marines to be communications expert, yet the benefits of having dedicated communication experts (such as the Communications NCO) are potentially incalculable through a variety of metrics, including money, time, and lives.

9. While the Communications NCO would more or less report directly to his or her respective Commanding Officer, he or she would still be available to higher commanders as the situation necessitated. If, for whatever reason, the Battalion Commander required immediate information about the welfare of a particular company, the Battalion Commander could leverage the assets of the local company’s Communications NCO rather than wait for the information to sift up the chain through other means. This model makes the Communications NCO the “eyes and ears” for higher commands, and the “mouth” for lower commands, in a manner of speaking. Such a model is likely to reduce surprises to commanders of all levels, in addition to helping ensure unity of Commander’s Intent at all times.

10. Specifically, the ELMACO Communications NCO billet, if successful, could provide proof of concept for the theoretical model outlined in this paper. If effective, Communications NCOs could be trained at other companies in the Battalion, and a Battalion Communications NCO could be created (see figure 2). Extremely long-range implications include exporting the model further and potentially creating a new MOS dedicated to ensuring effective communications at any command.

11. The Communications NCO has the potential to benefit in other regards as well. In short, the billet has the potential to positively impact the command, the mission, morale, retention, and is in keeping with the Marine Corps’ expeditionary model by fostering more rapid communications at all levels of command.

12. The immediate risk for employing such a billet is minimal. Initially, it would require reassigning only one qualified Marine to get the program up and running. I nominate myself for this duty. I believe I have demonstrated sufficient integrity, motivation, Honor, Courage and Commitment to tackle this task. I can’t guarantee perfection but I have every reason to be confident I will deliver results. Per reference (3), “Leaders must allow subordinates the opportunity to show initiative…. Because innovation is imprecise and because subordinates, especially junior ones, will make mistakes, protect them. “Zero defects” are not a standard of measurement. They do not encourage initiative; they stifle it.”

H. Conclusions

1. This document was intended to be comprehensive yet brief. Much of what has been written here could be expanded upon. In any event, organizational communication represents a challenge not just for the Marine Corps, but for any modern organization.

2. Unusual problems often require unusual solutions. With low risk and high potential reward, such a plan seems to promise great benefits for little investment.

3. I can provide further documentation, analysis, and correspondence as required.

I. References

(1) Shockley-Zalabak, Pamela S. Fundamentals of Organizational Communication, Seventh Edition. 2009, Pearson Education, Inc.

(2) MCRP 6-11B W/CH 11 Marine Corps Values: A User’s Guide for Discussion Leaders

(3) MCWP 6-11 Leading Marines

[“J. Durden”]

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