13 July 2009

Metrics, Pick-Up Artists and Robert McNamera

There's a great book called "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists" by Neil Strauss. In the autobiographical book, journalist Neil Strauss joins a group of pick-up artists--men who run workshops where they teach techniques on how to approach women in clubs and bars.

What started as a simple method for socially awkward guys to meet ladies quickly devolved into something sinister, with a few of the pick-up artists (in particular, Erik von Markovik, also known as "Mystery") becoming obsessed with sheer numbers of victories in the field of picking up women. Strauss cynically attributes this to a feature of Alpha Male psychology--whenever you create a system where men can compete and attain a higher score, they will do so. Strauss believes this is evident in the obsession with getting a higher "score" in everything from the seduction community to World of Warcraft.

In short, Strauss believes that "metrics" are used to drive competition in any environment, sometimes to irrational ends.

In the military, we use metrics for everything: from overdue evaluations to recruiting numbers to the number of flyable aircraft. Metrics have also been used for "body counts" in counterinsurgency environments in Iraq (ref. Bob Woodward's "The War Within", Kindle location 175 or so), and allegedly by the US Army in Afghanistan, despite the fact metrics of this nature run contrary to counterinsurgency doctrine.

Why do I mention metrics? An excellent milblog, Ink Spots, brought up the subject in a post regarding the death of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamera. Ink Spots notes McNamera's obsession with numbers and statistics in order to describe the war in Vietnam. Based on statistical analysis, McNamera believed that the US was winning the war in Vietnam--despite the fact that the political realities of the war were far different. Says Ink Spots:

The quantitative measurement of conflict is extraordinarily intriguing and useful in helping paint the picture on the success of operations. They do not, however, provide exact realities - especially with regard to gauging the sympathies of the population. GEN McChrystal's command review [of Afghanistan] will no doubt devise metrics that will demonstrate ISAF's success, not dishonestly but due to the nature of the subject. We should track and measure these metrics to gain a sense on how things are going, but remember: they have little to do with the political reality on the ground.
Couldn't have said it better myself. Well done.


SunJun said...

We actually had a bit of a chat on this in my Defense Policy & Program Analysis course. According to my professor, a veteran Navy analyst who started embedded with operational forces in Vietnam, McNamara's true legacy is in the introduction of quantitative analysis into arms procurement.

With regards to the Vietnam War, one could simply argue that McNamara simply picked the wrong set of metrics to measure the war effort. Then again, what those alternative metrics would be is questionable: I think back to Brooking's running Iraq metrics that they regularly publish in the NY Times.

Rob said...

The Game is indeed a good read. Even if I haven't seen Neil Strauss doing an actual pickup, he's contributed a lot in the PUA community. The master PUA, Julian Foxx, even admits the fact on his site: http://julianfoxx.com/neil-strauss.