Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scenarios for the “Afghanistan 2050" roundtable at Chicagoboyz blog: tribes versus networks

Yes, this blog and I are still active, trying to get back on track, after our potential lapsed for months due to my slowing down awhile. My interim apologies to individuals whom I’d told to expect a new post on one topic or another. I still plan to do those posts, as my reading and writing get back up to speed.

Meanwhile, an invitation came my way — thanks to Mark Safranski and Michael Lotus — to join in an online roundtable about “Afghanistan 2050” at the Chicagoboyz blog. The instructions said to suppose we are in the year 2050, looking back, and submit a paragraph for a future history that would purport to analyze outcomes and consequences.

I treated this as an opportunity to disseminate points relating to TIMN. This post gathers my three posts there into one. Readers who want to see what other contributors posted should visit the Chicagoboyz archive for “Afghanistan 2050” here.

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Feeling restricted by the one-paragraph instruction, and not having correctly read or remembered that we could add explanatory material if we so desired, I jammed my TIMN points into the following jargony scenario, posted on August 13:

Here’s my one-paragraph contribution to your roundtable speculations about the view from 2050, as requested [split into six for easier reading here].
“Because of the way U.S. forces pulled back in the Teens and wars ensued in the 20s and 30s, debates continue as to whether we won or lost over there. Yet, what matters more for this quadriform theory of social evolution is the following:

The persistent grip of the tribal form of organization — and thus local resistance to allowing the institutional (statist) and market forms to take hold properly — explains what unfolded in the region and why so little could be changed. At least we finally stemmed the jihadis efforts to spread their monoform religious tribalism elsewhere.

But we’ve done less well at our deeper challenge here at home and abroad: adapting to the wrenching rise of the newest of the four forms — the information-age network form. Though we are decades into it, our leaders are still so prone to emphasizing established state and market factors — a legacy of our society’s triformist phases — that they still haven’t allowed the new form to express its key strength: letting a commons-based “social sector” emerge, so that we develop a truly quadriform society.

Yes, it’s happening in fits and starts, and we got past the debasing of our polity by revanchist retro-tribal movements on our Right and Left. Yet, it’s disheartening that America’s efforts to use the network form in combination with the other three forms has led not so much to a revitalization of our democratic and entrepreneurial potentials, as to the consolidation of a hyper-surveilling cybercratic security state.

This has kept our homeland guardedly open and safe since our pull-backs decades ago — a valid strategic trade-off, since neither Mahdista Momentum nor Xyber-Op LiberTAZ infiltrated to damage more in the 30s and 40s than Al Qaeda used to. But this twist in America’s evolution has knotted-up our ability to compete and cooperate with partners near and far.

Indeed, China’s hybrid triform system is now in a stronger strategic position than any of the world’s few national efforts to create quadriform systems that function powerfully. Even so, time is on evolution’s side; it’s normal for the rise of a major new form of organization to take several generations to mature.”
[Purportedly based on “Tribes, Institutions, Markets, and Networks: A Theory of Social Evolution — Past, Present, and Future” (rev. ed., 2050).]
Since my post was admittedly tendentious, I directed readers to visit here for clarification about TIMN.

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I thought that would be my sole contribution. But a follow-up scenario occurred to me a week later. And since Chicagoboyz once held an online roundtable on John Boyd, I mixed in a few terms that were meant to reflect Boyd and his thinking, though more as a tease than a sign of expertise on my part.

Here’s an epilogue/postscript to my initial (August 13) post for this roundtable [now split into separate paragraphs]:
The dozen BOIDS — small ultra-quiet stealthy long-range aerial DIY drones designed to swarm against an adversary’s OODA loops — idled in range of the target, undetected, waiting for a signal that the first stone was being cast. Ten of the drones were piloted remotely by individuals who had paid large sums to train and participate in what they were about to do: stone the stoners. The other two were for tactical topsight and command (TTC, the new C4ISR) and were operated by a unit of HubrisNemesis, the secretive ethicalist netfirm whose lineage included Sea Shepherd.* This unit and a few of the attack pilots were aboard a ship in the Indian Ocean; most of the pilots were in other locations, even at home in North America, Europe, and South Asia.

While each had his/her own motivation for joining in, they all shared disgust and despair at how, once again, a great religion was being subjected to a vain tribalism. Public stoning rarely occurred anymore, and international efforts had been made for months to halt this instance. But dark local forces had prevailed, and the stoning was supposed to proceed a few minutes from now in the sun-baked arena — with no outside media or foreign observers present.

HubrisNemesis and the BOIDistas hoped that Operation StoneCold would save the condemned trio’s life. But even if that proved a false hope, at least their operation would generate video for global viewing of the ugly event’s proponents being routed as the BOIDS “stoned” them from above for the next hour or so. But unlike the people at the event, the BOIDistas would not launch real stones aimed to maim and kill; no, their weaponry was mainly metaphorical, even nonviolent, but still powerful enough to frighten and disperse a crowd — e.g., plastic meshes filled with choice liquids, gases, and powders.  And if the surprise attack could be sustained long enough, nearby police and military would show up and cancel the event. And then the ripple effects would start to unfold. . . .
* See here for a fine post about Sea Shepherd and its implications [by Peter Hodge, “‘Whale war’ — a new form of conflict?” at his blog The Strategist on 07/01/10].
In my post I forgot to mention that the BOIDS might also emit sonics that could startle, stun, and scatter the unknowing. For example — and as an entertaining enlightening aside — I’d recommend the wailing howls from the 1994 Ferrari Formula 1 racecar, the 412T1, with its 3.5 liter V12 engine at song. It’s audible at YouTube in a brief clip here, and a longer one here. This, the most magnificent song ever from a racecar, is surely the sound of angels raising hell in order to raze it.

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Again I thought I was done. But then it occurred to me that I might use a new post to broach an idea I had several years ago but have hesitated to write up:

Here is another speculative scenario for the Afghanistan 2050 roundtable. It reflects themes in my August 13 post and is not inconsistent with my August 22 post:
The Black-Flag Wars of the 20s and 30s were so fraught with religious strife and devastation that by the 40s many people in the region were ready for new ways to look at the world. That’s one reason why the New Theory of Prophecy (NTP) and the movement that formed around it, the New Word Network (NWN), suddenly spread faster there than anywhere before.

NTP rested on a reaction in the Teens that too many people from too many religions, mostly in the Middle East, were claiming to act in God’s name, as His chosen people. NTP reaffirmed that Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad were God’s prophets. What it rethought was why they all appeared in the Middle East, when God could have placed them anywhere in the world.

NTP hypothesized that if God had sent a prophet elsewhere, his Word might not have spread into the Middle East in due time, because its peoples were so extraordinarily tribal. Yet, this area was a crucial crossroads of world civilizations. Wiser, then, to put a prophet there, and have the Word spread out to the rest of the world. But with the first prophet, only his own tribe got the Word; it didn’t spread beyond them. With the second, the Word spread far outside, but not much more within the Middle East. With the third, the Word spread across the Middle East and farther around the world. But then, once again, too many people turned to claim they’d been chosen by this version of the Word and its prophet; they reverted to being extremely tribal, in ways that disparaged not only other peoples but even the first two prophets.

Against this background, NTP counseled all believers against taking God’s name in vain and claiming to be His singularly chosen people, while NWN developed a noöpolitik* strategy to ameliorate the tribalization of religion. To its credit, NWN helped undermine the appeal of Al Qaeda’s narrative in North America and Europe, and motivate the accords between Israel and Palestine in the Teens. But for the next two decades, conditions in South Asia fell prey to the millenarian Black Flag Momentum (BFM) and its belief that a new prophet was imminent.

BFM’s leaders disdained NWN and twisted the NTP to claim it meant a new prophet was bound to arise, this time for them. They’ve been wrong, and done wrong, for a quarter century — like past millenarian movements that provoked apocalyptic violence and always ended up losing. Now, conditions are finally too disastrous for even BFM and its allies to rationalize. NWN is fast gaining adherents in the region, helping people recover and reorganize. Rumors are still circulating about an imminent new prophet, but lately of one quite unlike what BFM and others had predicted — and that too is calming the region.

[Excerpt from Dawgo Skatts, “Chronicles of the New Word Network,” draft (last revised 02/30/50). Accepted for inclusion in NoöSpherica Quarterly (probably the Spring 2050 special issue on trends in religion). Still being edited for sensitivity.]
* For clarification of this information-strategy concept, see here.
That last link goes to David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, “The promise of noöpolitik,” First Monday, vol. 12, no. 8 (August 2007).  For a fuller statement, see the original RAND monograph (1999).

A commenter raised a concern that “chosen people” usually refers to Jews.  I tried to clarify the thinking behind my scenario as follows:
“Interesting point about the term ‘chosen people.’  As a sort of lapsed Protestant, and not well-read on religion, I’ve lost a sense it is so strongly associated with Judaism.  I have long regarded it as a term that may crop up in many religious contexts.  Quickly checking, I see Wikipedia has an entry for the term that emphasizes your point, yet adds examples from other religions, including ones I didn’t know about.  When I first came up with the idea, I was mostly reacting to the beliefs and behaviors of Islamist terrorists, as well as sectarian and cult leaders of other faiths.  Perhaps substituting another term — select? anointed? ordained? special? sent? commanded? — would be advisable.

By the way, the scenario is not meant to imply that any notion of feeling chosen is bad.  To give a literary example, consider differences between Don Quixote and Captain Ahab:  Both believe they are on a special spiritual mission; but only the latter is seized with rallying his crew to wreak vengeance in a vainglorious streak of extreme tribalism.  In a sense, my scenario implies that the Don Quixotes prevail over the Captain Ahabs of the world.”  

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That’s all for now.  If there are additional developments, say from a wrap-up discussion about the entire roundtable, I’ll update here.

UPDATE — September 16, 2010: The “Afghanistan 2050” roundtable at Chicagoboyz came to an end on 9/11 with a summary wrap-up post by the main organizer, Lexington Green. In addition to highlighting selected posts (including my own, I was pleased to see), he explained that
“I initiated this effort because I wanted to think-through the current effort in Afghanistan and I was spinning my wheels. I was seeing all kinds of immediately relevant granularity and not much big-picture thinking. For example, within days of announcing it Gen. McChrystal resigned, an event that dominated the headlines for a few days, but is unlikely to even be a footnote in four decades. For me, personally, the RT [roundtable] was a success. I enjoyed the posts, all of which were good, and some of which were excellent. I believe the whole is superior to the sum of its parts. The RT has given me a better idea of the big picture, and I see that others are thinking along similar lines. I hope the rest of our participants and readers also found it valuable or interesting.

“I printed out the RT posts with comments, and re-read the whole thing. It was 107 pages, the scale of a moderately sized book. We had 24 posts by 20 contributors.”

Not bad. In addition, an excerpt led off a “Recommended Reading” post by Mark Zafranski at his Zenpundit blog.

If there is additional discussion, it will probably occur at those two blogs. I do not cotton to the conservative libertarianism that permeates them — I’m becoming too much of a quadriformist for that — but they remain among my favorites for diverse, lively, future-oriented discussions about national security trends.

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Note:  Ever since posting about PhilipBlond’s ideas two posts back, this blog — and that post above all — has become a target of spam comments and spurious backlinks, mostly in Chinese, perhaps because the spammers are on automatic search for words like his last name.  So, for the time being, I’ve altered the blog’s settings to disallow backlinks, hide past ones, and require comment moderation.