Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Incidentals (5th of 5): a leftover storyline ending in fascism (via TIMN)

What’s left for this scrapbook of incidental comments are three items that I couldn’t fit easily into the preceding posts, and that weren’t well composed anyway. But I include them, for they contain TIMN-related points about organizational trends among our adversaries.

Besides, I finally spotted a storyline for linking the three: To begin, states fail because their tribal/clan bases have failed. Next, criminal and terrorist enterprises spread amid state failure by operating like networked franchises. Finally, a new authoritarian state emerges that aims to amalgamate rather than separate the TIMN forms and their realms. It’s just a scenario — by now, a rather conventional one — but it serves to combine the pieces of this post. And its trajectory culminates with an abiding concern of mine: the resurgence of fascism.

* * *

Whenever I see the annual “failed states index” published by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, I wonder anew what such indexes might look like for failed tribes, failed markets, and failed networks. So, when Drew Conway’s Zero Intelligence Agents blog carried a post about “Building a Better Failed State Index” in July 2009, I speculated a bit that failed states are often tantamount to failed tribes (and/or clans):
Thus my question is: To what extent is a failed-states index a failed-tribes index? By which I mostly mean these kinds of possibilities: That a particular clan (or clan-like group) has gained exclusive control and is milking the state in criminal fashion. Or that clannish infighting among elites weakens a state beyond repair.

Of the fundforpeace.org indicators, the ones that most pertain to tribal/clan-like behavior are scattered, as follows:
  • One is social: I-3. Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievance or Group Paranoia.
  • One is economic: I-5. Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines (but only the part that pertains to “Rise of communal nationalism based on real or perceived group inequalities”).
  • Three are political: I-7. Criminalization and/or Delegitimization of the State; I-10. Security Apparatus Operates as a "State Within a State"; I-11. Rise of Factionalized Elites.
Quite a scattering. And it reflects fact that the design of the index is geared to the standard view that state failure is a function of social, economic, and political factors . . .

Still, I’d like to see something different (though it’s beyond me to spell it out here and now): State failure as a function of the extent to which the tribal-clan form goes “wrong” in a society. Somalia, for an obvious example. (Not to mention that this form appears to be going wrong in areas of American society these days.)

I’m not implying that all tribal/clan behavior is indicative of state failure. Not at all. For example, nationalism can be positive for state success. So can deals for divvying up patronage and other spoils. Mexico did this quite well for decades.
Meanwhile it has become increasingly evident that where states fail because their tribal/clan bases have failed, new cavities may appear for criminal and terrorist organizations to take hold and expand their operations.

* * *

As a result of past interests, I keep an eye on how Al Qaeda — a slick exploiter of failed states and tribes — is being analyzed, especially its organization. Thus a post at the al Sahwa blog by Josh McLaughlin on “Al Qaeda: Franchise or Conglomerate?” in January 2010 attracted my attention:
As I recall, the franchise and conglomerate “business models” about Al Qaeda have been around sporadically for over five years. The franchise model was gaining sway in the mid 2000s. The conglomerate model emerged earlier (though I’ve misplaced a post-9/11 analysis that rendered Al Qaeda to look like one); but soon afterwards this model looked too corporate, too formally structured, to be accurate. As you notice, it may be more applicable today.

Most analysts and strategists, myself included, have preferred network models that were not so drawn from the business world. Even so, as I tried to point out back then (in 2005/updated 2007, p. 35), “while al-Qaeda may look amorphous, the deeper reality may be that it is polymorphous, deliberately shifting its shape and style to suit changing circumstances, including the addition of new, semiautonomous affiliates to the broader network.”

My own urging was, and still is, that Al Qaeda and its affiliates represent an innovative blend mainly of tribal and network forms of organization (pp. 45-46): “In short, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have formed a hybrid of the tribal and network designs — a tribalized network or networked tribe, so to speak, that includes bits of hierarchy and marketlike dynamics as well. The tribal paradigm has a striking advantage over the network, hierarchy, and other organizational paradigms. The latter models point to organizational design first, and then to matters of leadership, doctrine, and strategy. But they have nothing clearly embedded in them about religion. As voiced in terrorism discussions, they are secular paradigms; religion is grafted on, as a separate matter. In contrast, the tribal paradigm is inherently fraught with dynamics that turn into religious matters, such as altruism toward kin, delineations between “us” and “them,” and codes of revenge. And that is another valuable reason to include the tribal paradigm in analyses of al-Qaeda and other terrorist movements.”

From this perspective, the term “confederation” may be currently as relevant as “conglomerate” since the former term often applies as to tribe-like actors that prefer loosely structured alliances. If Al Qaeda becomes stronger, the hierarchical form and its business and governance models are likely to gain sway.

Source: Al Qaeda and Its Affiliates: A Global Tribe Waging Segmental Warfare
McLaughlin made it clear in a detailed follow-up post that he was determined to lay out the conglomerate model as a sensible way to analyze aspects of Al Qaeda’s relations with its affiliates. I remained cautionary, partly as follows:
. . . For the moment, I’ll leave my notions about tribes and confederations to the side and observe the following:

It is surely worthwhile to ask what kinds of business models may help analysts and strategists understand AQ et al. If answering such a question is limited to looking at franchises and conglomerates as the most relevant models, then trends may indeed be evolving in the direction you emphasize. AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], acc to the depiction you point to, has/had more formal structure than I’m used to seeing.

Yet, doesn't the notion of a conglomerate fit Iran’s IRGC a lot better than AQ and affiliates? If so, those are two hugely different entities. Perhaps a conglomerate is AQ’s aspiration, even for the core of a caliphate. At least I’d wonder about that. But AQ’s conglomerate aspects seem only nascent today. . . .

Even so, the literature on business models includes more than franchises and conglomerates. While I’m not very familiar with this literature, it now identifies a lot of innovative new designs that are viewed as “networks” and that don’t quite fit franchise, much less conglomerate, or other standard corporate models. The larger networks (in Silicon Valley? in northern Italy?) have firms that act as key hubs, and the overall network is multi-hub. Individual firms may be structured formally, not unlike the hierarchical AQI design you noted. But the network as a whole is not like that — it is not centrally planned and commanded, though there may be efforts at a kind of centralized coordination and communication. Similar networks are also emerging among activist civil-society NGOS as well. Wouldn’t this kind of business model be more apt for thinking about AQ et al.?
In publishing his analysis, McLaughlin explained that “my aim is to supplant ‘franchise’ with ‘conglomerate’ as the most representative business model for the relationship between AQ and its affiliate groups.” To his credit, he offers a loose concept of a conglomerate, in which the component entities, though subordinate, remain quite autonomous, choose their own leaders, and act on their own initiative.

Even so, I remain more attuned to the frequent depictions of Al Qaeda as a “network of franchises.” In this regard, a recent write-up by James Roberts makes appropriate points: “These events show that Al Qaeda franchisees are operating without need of direction from the corporate headquarters. Al Qaeda today is a flat, dispersed, multi-celled structure which executes on ‘commander’s intent’ not waiting for orders from above. Actors self radicalize, seek out and connect with inspirational figures like Al Aulaqi in Yemen, and execute plots independent of commands from senior leaders. This paper proposes a change in our approach. It argues that Al Qaeda is conducting an ‘outsurgency’ — similar to, but different from — an insurgency.”

Yet, Al Qaeda et al. may still turn out to be a shape shifter — adaptively polymorphous. Analysts should not get too attached to any particular model drawn from business literatures. And there is still the issue of what Al Qaeda would like to morph into, in the unlikely event it ever gains enough sway to found a new caliphate — its avowed future goal.

* * *

Along the way, in October 2009 I had a stray thought about the caliphate concept and decided to raise it at Zenpundit, in the comments section of a post about something more general that I can’t locate anymore:
I keep re-learning what a massive operation the IRGC is — tantamount to what Jane Jacobs termed a “monstrous moral hybrid” perhaps. The IRGC/IRG starts as an effort to consolidate various paramilitary forces following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Now it has its own ground, naval, air, and special forces. More interestingly, it has expanded economically, and acquired assets to become a multi-billions enterprise, including public construction projects, and even dentistry and travel. It can shut out private business competition, for it can easily underbid and then overrun, while also using recruits and conscripts as labor. In sum, it represents a hybrid of tribal, hierarchical, and market principles, if not network ones too.

Now, that supports the usual way of looking at this: just a gigantic hybrid operating inside a state, almost as a semi-autonomous state within a state. And that’s not uncommon in many countries. The Chinese and Cuban militaries are heavily involved in economic enterprises too. And in parallel fashion, this is a growing trend among criminal enterprises as well, like the Zetas mentioned in your reading recommendations above.

But then I had this stray thought: The IRGC is not so much a state within a state, as a caliphate within a state. I am not well-informed about how to define and think about caliphates. But the little I know leads me to think this might be a thought worth further consideration and analysis. Esp. if the IRGC could be considered as a model for an emerging Shia caliphate, and one that is way ahead of radical Sunni aspirations.

So: an emerging caliphate within a state. Any comment?
Safranski generously singled out my comment for a new post on “Pondering the Pasdaran” in October 2009. It soon became clear that I was rather ignorant about the nature of caliphates in Islamic history. But I rebounded:
. . . Much as I’ve tried to be informed about differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, my mind hadn’t grasped that Caliphates pertain almost entirely to Sunnis, Imamates to Shias, and that Shias are not particularly interested in having a Caliphate — though my main source (the Wikipedia entry on “Caliphate”) indicates exceptions (e.g., the Fatimid dynasty). So, much as I liked the turn of phrase — “a caliphate within a state” — today I see it’s evidently inadvisable to apply it to the IRGC.

. . . [But] I still wonder that something more is going on than is captured by the notion of a “state within a state” and related concepts. . . . A look at a RAND report from early this year — The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (RAND, MG-821, 2009) — adds to understanding its economic reach, as a kind of conglomerate. This report compares the IRGC mainly to the case in China. Also, I’ve now spotted that the IRGC has expanded lately into energy and telecommunications.

What a hybrid amalgam!? The RAND report and other sources regard it mostly as just another complicated, expansive institution enmeshed in domestic factional politics, not to mention crime and corruption. And this results in a fairly conventional range of possible future scenarios. Yet, because of my TIMN efforts, I remain struck by the IRGC’s odd fusion of tribal, institutional, market, and network designs, and wonder more about unconventional scenarios.

My understanding of TIMN says that this kind of hybrid is dysfunctional over time. But it works for certain kinds of digressions from the mainstream of social evolution, and particularly for fascism, esp. if fascist tendencies are infused with millenarian tendencies like those we’ve discussed here at your blog previously (e.g., posts on Mahdism).
Trends in Iran and elsewhere, notably Venezuela, indicate that fascism’s allure is growing again around the world (though under other names). I’ve posted about this before, and I hope to do more. A good resource for getting back up to speed on the topic and its angles is the History News Network’s “HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism,” for which Zenpundit provides a handy index here.

* * * Wrap-Up Remarks * * *

That’s all for these incidental musings from the past six or so months. Yet, since I see this blog still has some readers, I’ll add a few personal remarks before ending this series.

When I began assembling these incidentals, I guessed the folder held about 10-15 pages of material, which I’d spread over 3 or 4 posts. All done now, my computer says the total is nearly 45 pages; and I’ve distributed them across 5 posts. Much more than I’d expected. And that’s after trimming some comments, and not including various blurts left at other blogs I like. So, in a sense I've been more productive than I thought, but also more disorganized.

These incidental activities elsewhere have enabled me to refresh existing contacts, make interesting new ones, disseminate aspects of TIMN and STA, and just test out thoughts in passing as I roamed the blogosphere. I've enjoyed it. Yet, all in all, I have not found this to be a particularly productive endeavor for the development of either TIMN or STA. It's been too fragmentary. Less commenting elsewhere and more focused reading and writing via my own blog seems advisable.

As I’ve said before, my near-term goal for this blog is to enable me to post materials that have been sitting on my computer here at home for years about STA and TIMN matters. And now that the blog has existed for a year, the near-term goal also includes posting whatever new I come up with, in addition to processing the backlog that’s still in my computer.

Posting renders a sensation of quasi-publication — of being productive, making progress, remaining on track, in contact. Indeed, I decided to try blogging as an outlet after running into unusual resistance to publishing my updated draft on cyberocracy* in 2008 — a paper that involved many months of new work on my part (as well as by co-author Danielle Varda). Recently retired, I thus began to fret that I might be entering a long period of reading and writing about STA and TIMN in frustrating isolation, with unpublished drafts accumulating here at home. I could get through that, but it seemed a better idea to try blogging bits and pieces. And so far, it’s working pretty well.

I also have a long-term goal for the blog: a progressive accumulation over several years of what I know about the STA and TIMN frameworks. If this is accompanied by achieving formal publications elsewhere, all the better. If not, at least I will have stored enough in this repository to help others continue thinking about STA and TIMN. Maybe they (you?) can do a better job eventually. I remain convinced of the theoretical and practical potentials of these two sets of ideas.


*This paper remains posted at ssrn.com. A welcome development is that the update sections are appearing as a chapter in Irving Louis Horowitz (Editor), Culture and Civilization: Beyond Positivism and Historicism (2010).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Incidentals (4th of 5): apropos terrorist mindsets (à la STA and TIMN)

This post compiles a string of comments about jihadi and related terrorist mindsets that involve millenarian thinking. Most reflect my interest in STA, particularly a hypothesis that the keys to terrorist mentalities lie more in their spatial than in their time or action orientations. Some comments also relate to TIMN, because they spotlight the dark tribalism inherent in jihadi thought and action.

An off-hand remark about “loner tribalism” — meaning a lone-wolf tribalist differs from a lone-wolf terrorist — may be the only brand new notion I have here. Otherwise, what’s here, amid broader references to the study of millenarianism, are notions about tit-for-tat reciprocity, the “hubris-nemesis complex,” and the phenomenon known as “running amok.” At the end are: a rant about tribalism vs. religiosity in the “war of ideas”; and a note about how yesterday’s anarchists who used dynamite, the high-tech weapon of their time, rationalized turning science against “the system” — claiming justifications that today’s terrorists may yet replicate.

I made many of the comments because the topic interests me. But also, I thought that participation might help me grope a way toward finishing part 4 of my languishing four-part series of posts about millenarian aspects of terrorism. Ever since I first made notes for part 4 — over a year ago? — I've intended to focus it on implications for strategy, specifically on the need to generate splits between the incorrigible hard-core millenarians and the tag-along tribalists who may coexist in a movement. But we’ll see. At least I got to raise that idea in these comments.

Most of the comments occurred at Mark Safranski’s marvelous Zenpundit blog in the context of guest posts by Charles Cameron on millenarianism. While I reprise only my own comments here, interested readers should see the original posts and ensuing discussions there for the inputs from not only Cameron but also other experts on millenarianism, such as Jean Rosenfeld (UCLA), “DP” (al Sahwa blog), John Hall (UC Davis), and by email, Michael Barkun (Syracuse). Their discussions are more illuminating than mine alone.

Apropos these matters, I also left some remarks at the ICSR’s interesting FREErad!cals blog in a post by Am Samm on “Preventing, er, Countering Violent Extremism comes to America: Part One” in January 2010. But I said nothing different there from what I said at Zenpundit.

* * *

Cameron’s series at Zenpundit kicked off in August 2009 with a post about “apocalyptic vision” that focused on Mahdism (the Mahdi being “Islam’s end-times savior”). I noted:
An important, very interesting set of points. But oddly, it’s a topic that keeps having difficulty gaining traction among analysts and strategists. I once tried repeatedly in small ways years ago to urge that Al Qaeda et al. be analyzed as expressions of millenarianism — as millenarians who have a strategic sense, and not just as political and military strategists who have a millenarian bent. But my little efforts proved to no avail and usually led to dismissiveness (accompanied sometimes with distinctions about Sunnis vs. Shias, and jihadis vs. apocalyptic millenarians, that were said to counsel against thinking that Islam can exhibit the millennialism that has often cropped up in Jewish and Christian histories). . . .

Some of my key points: For starters, read Norman Cohn’s Pursuit of the Millennium and Michael Barkun’s Disaster and the Millennium to become familiar with key themes and dynamics. Learn that the millenarian believes he/she faces not just relative deprivation (a favorite theme among conflict analysts) but absolute disaster (a more difficult theme for analysts to cope with). In addition, realize that the millenarian mindset is knotted up with urgent notions not only about social time (the “end times”) but also about the nature of social space (barriers everywhere) and social action (violent deeds to achieve divine breakthroughs).

. . . [O]ne point, perhaps too obvious, is to figure out how to drive wedges between the hard-core millenarians, who are not going to change their minds or relent, and the tag-along tribalists who amount to “accidental” millenarians. This might help us deal with dynamics within and among Al Qaeda, the Taliban and its various elements, not to mention Iranian actors. . . .
In September, I added an STA-related quotation:
. . . [A]n interesting attribute of millenarian religious groups is that they are often on the cutting edge in adopting new info tech, partly because it enables them to project their identity beyond previous capacities. As such, these groups reflect the kind of world view described by Marshall McCluhan and Quentin Fiore (1967?):

“Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘time’ and ’space’ and pours upon us instantly and continuously concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism. . . . Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. ‘Time’ has ceased, ’space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village. . . a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorce us.”

That is normally, famously quoted because of the “global village” notion. I offer it up today for its millenarian content. What’s important to millenarians is “time war” (Rifkin, 1987), not a “clash of civilizations” (Huntington, 1993).
* * *

In November, Cameron posted next about “speak the languages, know the modes of thought.” In it he referred to Islamist views about reciprocity, and I wondered:
What catches my eye right now is the following point, which is a bit off your main theme today, but I’d like to ask for more about it anyway: “Which powerfully reinforces the idea that bin Laden views his jihad against the US in terms of measured reciprocity — a notion which should give us pause every time we take an action which we would not choose to have taken against us…”

What I wonder about is the nature of a mind bent on measured reciprocity vs. a millenarian mind . . . . Millenarians, I gather, aren’t much into measured tit-for-tat thinking. If they are, then maybe they really aren’t all that millenarian. They may think they are on a righteous, vengeful mission ordained by god — but it’s so tit-for-tat that it falls short of being truly millenarian.

Or is there a spectrum of combinations? I can imagine a millenarian using tit-for-tat thinking as part of a rationale for wanting to inflict apocalyptic punishment. But I can also suppose that it’s a mental game that a millenarian leader uses to help explain his views to attract new adherents. If so, who/what may be examples of minds that combine millenarian with measured reciprocity?
Cameron, Rosenfeld, Safranski, and others provided extensive answers about the meanings and roles of reciprocity in jihadi thinking, in comments left not only in this post but also in a separate follow-up post. This opened an opportunity to recall a cosmic tit-for-tat involving the ancient yet modern dynamic of hubris and Nemesis:
. . . I used to regard tit-for-tat as a game-theoretic way for players to promote a kind of stand-offish equilibrium based on mutual deterrence. Later I realized that real-life tribal societies often have codes of honor that, when wrongs occur, require tit-for-tat retribution by means of compensation or revenge. Yet, this mundane notion of tit-for-tat tends to move away from fostering equilibrium and deterrence, the more that the actors (players, tribes, whatever) expand their spatial and temporal horizons to include wrongs that allegedly occurred far away and/or long ago. Thus, historic enemies in rival big-city gangs or Middle-Eastern sects may be caught up in nearly eternal, never-ending patterns of tit-for-tat that are said to be ethically justified in terms of measured reciprocity, but that in fact begin to break the boundaries of being either measured or reciprocal.

The millenarians that you, Jean Rosenfeld, and others keep illuminating seem to be aiming for more than mundane: a cosmic tit-for-tat. This does not apply to all millenarians, of course, for some seem to have in mind the eruption of a new age that will not require unusual punishment and purification. But the notion of a cosmic tit-for-tat does seem to apply to a lot of millenarians across a lot of religions — bin Laden among them — who long for a violent, ferociously righteous retribution.

All of which reminds me of an older dynamic — a cosmic tit-for-tat in Greek mythology — that antedates the religious texts we’ve discussed: the ancient dynamic of hubris and Nemesis, whereby mortals who exhibit hubris (the vainglorious, prideful pretension to be godlike) are struck down by Nemesis (Zeus’s goddess of divine vengeance and retribution). Narcissus is a classic example (hence the concept of narcissism as a kind of hubris). In a sense, bin laden is playing Nemesis to Western hubris.

But doesn’t bin Laden also exhibit a kind of hubris? I think so; and if so, then we can push the ancient dynamic in a new direction and speculate that he has a “hubris-nemesis complex.” In this extraordinary mindset, an actor not only exhibits hubris but also seeks to play Nemesis against something else that he or she accuses of hubris. The result is a rare, invigorating, all-consuming fusion: a charismatic hubris-nemesis complex.

Not all hubris-nemesis characters are millenarians (or vice-versa). But a bunch are: as literary archetypes, think Captain Ahab in Moby Dick; Satan in Paradise Lost. As real-life leadership examples, think Hitler, Castro, etc. (maybe even some of today’s talk-show hosts?). These are all rather millenarian figures, and in addition — to bring matters around to the theme of this and the preceding post — they all show interest in pursuing some kind of rather cosmic tit-for-tat. . . .

Source: Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex
* * *

Later in November, as a result of the Ft. Hood shooting rampage, Cameron posted his ”Analysis of the Hasan Slide Presentation” at Zenpundit (and simultaneously at the Small Wars Journal blog). My points — and here’s where running amok and loner tribalism enter the analysis — were as follows:
. . . Your analysis shines in contrast to other views I’ve seen lately. One deemed the presentation irrational — “just crazy” (commentator on Fox News). Another claimed it was dogmatic — a “crystallization of the SJ [Salafi-Jihadist] ideology" (a jihad-watchers’ blogpost). Yet, I’d say the presentation provides little to no evidence for those views [I was wrong about the latter]. I’m also surprised to see Hasan’s’ rampage at Ft. Hood being viewed (prematurely?) as possibly “a classic example of Fourth Generation war” (acc. to a DNI blogpost).

If I may shift to using a perspective that I like when analyzing mindsets — a perspective that says to look for underlying space-time-action orientations — I’d add and wonder about the following in conjunction with your points:

Regarding space orientations, the presentation conveys a tendency to structure matters — even to compartmentalize them — in terms of binaries and dualities, as you note: e.g., rewards and punishments, paradise and hell, God and country/state, Muslims and infidels. Of course, not everything is viewed in binary terms, but quite a lot. I’m wondering — and asking — whether such binary structuring, especially if a person thinks that ultimately all should be one under God, may add to the strain of coping with a mental balancing act in times of stress. I would think so. Your analysis detects the ambiguities in Hasan’s text. Perhaps coping with ambiguities is a lot harder for a binary mentality.

Regarding time orientations, the presentation reveals a concern with proper progression. As your analysis of the “timeline” reveals, the slides show that Islamic behavior may evolve in phases — from peaceful accommodation, to defensive jihad, to offensive jihad, depending on how Muslims are treated, and on the justifications for “abrogation” to proceed along the timeline. At the time of the presentation, Hasan does not himself appear to be far down this progression, as you indicate. But it’s interesting that he lays it out, a kind of warning.

As for action orientations, I have less to add. The presentation is thoroughly religious: Man should do God’s will. One phrase that catches my eye is on slide 49: “Muslims may be seen as moderate (compromising) but God is not.” . . . I’m supposing this remark is another clue.

Finally, your observations about “Hasan’s mind . . . as gradually becoming a sort of self-imposed prison, an echo chamber” remind me of the explosive reaction known as “running amok” in which a period of sullen underground brooding is followed by an outburst of sui-homicidal rage. Psychiatrist B. G. Burton-Bradley (1972), based on an analysis of amok-runners in Papua-New Guinea (the source of the term), once paraphrased their thinking as follows:

“I am not an important or ‘big man.’ Although poor, I have always had my sense of personal dignity and social identity. But I have had little else. Now even this has been taken from me and my life reduced to nothing by an intolerable insult. Therefore, I have nothing to lose except my life, which is rated as nothing, so I trade my life for yours as your life is favored. The exchange is in my favor, so I shall not only kill you, but I will also kill many of you, and at the same time rehabilitate myself in the eyes of the group of which I am a member, even though I might be killed in the process.”

Wow. That sounds like part of what happened to Hasan. Here, the meaning of the violence transcends its instrumental utility (an action orientation). It seems to be mainly about projecting an ego-identity (a spatial orientation), even more than about expecting to break through to a new future (a time orientation). Some terrorism has this quality. But so does most tribalism. Perhaps Hasan was expressing a kind of loner tribalism more than terrorism.
* * *

At the SWJ blog’s parallel version of the foregoing post, Cameron asked for clarification of the “loner tribalism” notion:
. . . It reflects a view I’ve held for some time . . . that a lot of Islamist and other kinds of religious terrorism expresses a demonic virulent kind of tribalism, more than the religion itself.

. . . [A] tribalist, including one who tribalizes any religion, is keen about expressing solidarity with a group identity; espousing a kinship of blood and brotherhood; distinguishing us from them; upholding codes of honor that make one extremely sensitive about respect, pride, and dignity; and calling for righteous vengeance against perceived insults. I’m detecting that Hasan yearned to defend his tribe (Muslims) more than to be a terrorist or jihadist (my understanding of what makes jihadists tick being more about the appeal of tribal than religious tenets).

. . . [H]e was thinking in Muslim terms, and he is a Palestinian Arab by background. But as someone (Shlok Vaidya?) noted, Hasan’s act was more like Columbine than 9/11. If so, that makes him, including his choice of weapons and the randomness yet categoricalness of his targets, quite “American” these days.

Similar recent perpetrators I recall in our country — e.g., that guy who shot the abortion doctor, the guy out to murder at the Holocaust Museum, and some incidents I don’t quite recall involving students or gang-bangers — were, I’d speculate, acting not so much as the lone-wolf terrorists they’ve been labeled, but rather as loner wannabe tribalists. What they most wanted was to express solidarity with a group identity that hadn’t quite accepted them, but that in their view needed defending against threatening others, even from the fringe where they tried to participate and belong.

Wasn’t Hasan like that? I do not mean to dismiss that he may have thought he was acting as a Muslim and Arab (note his clothing at the time), but he was into trying to be American too. Perhaps, in a sense, his premeditated violence served to amalgamate and harmonize all his multiple identities at once. At that awful moment, they were finally fused and proclaimed, rather than in conflict tearing him apart.

Thus my notion of loner tribalism — in part, a solitary, self-impelled effort to express identity and solidarity with a group to which they yearned but didn't quite get to belong.

Here’s an additional speculation: You, Jean Rosenfeld, and others have noted a lot of distinctions regarding varieties of millenarians, notably in discussions at Zenpundit. A distinction I’ve wondered about is between the true millenarians in a group/movement and the tag-alongs who amount more to “accidental millenarians” (to use a current adjective). The latters' mindsets tend to be more about tribalism (belonging to the group) than about millenarianism (blasting into a new future). If the distinction makes sense, the point would be to identify strategies and tactics to split the tag-along tribalists off and away from the hard-core millenarians. I’ve wondered about this a bit in regard to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now I’m wondering about it in regard to Hasan.

From what I’ve seen so far, Hasan wasn’t a full-fledged millenarian. His act was apocalyptic, and some of the beliefs he included in his slide presentation had millenarian aspects. But, at least until recently, he was not far gone in that direction. Could he have been pulled back? Hard-core millenarians cannot be pulled back; they can’t be dissuaded or soothed. But tag-along tribalists may be another matter. . . .

Of course, these thoughts will prove moot and misplaced if evidence turns up that Hasan had in fact morphed into a fully committed, connected jihadist. Yet, if he had made only tentative efforts in that direction, which appears to have been the case with other solitary murderers mentioned above, then the notion of a loner tribalist running amok may remain more accurate than lone-wolf terrorist.
* * *

Later in November, Cameron posted at Zenpundit about “The Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd.” In January, I spotted a new comment about the nature of honor — which triggered the following outburst about tribalism vs. religiosity:
. . . [Y]our comment about honor (which is to tribes what power and profit are to states and markets respectively), prompt me to reiterate this:

Suicide bombing, particularly if it kills noncombatant innocents, is more an act of tribalism than religiosity. One ultimate purpose of religion — meaning all major religions, and especially the Abrahamic monotheisms of the world’s most terribly tribal area, the Middle East — is to enable people to transcend the dark side of tribalism. To the extent that religionists of any creed enact this dark side and claim it is righteous and honorable to do so, they regress into a craven, divisive, vengeful, demonizing, bloodlusting tribalism. Along the way, they take God’s name in vain; they distort their religiosity; and they depart from that ultimate religious purpose noted above.

In my view, then, the interplay between tribalism and religiosity lies at the core of the “war of ideas” in this area. That so-called war has not gone well for U.S. strategists and their allies, in part because we have not known how best to grapple with jihadi narratives about the importance of being anti-imperialist and pro-Islamist on their terms. We have tried to show we are not so imperial and really do favor democratic development. And we have urged the displacement of extremist by moderate interpretations of relevant religious texts. But so far, all to little avail.

It’s time to rethink (again!) how to find our way through the “war of ideas” against Al Qaeda and its ilk: Narrative engagement along the political and religious lines noted above should continue, however slow and marginal their effectiveness. But I’d suggest fielding a new line about the relationship between tribalism and religion. We should attack the suborning of religion (any and all religions) to an extreme tribalism of the darkest kind. I’m not sure exactly how to accomplish this, but I’m sure it’s worth experimenting with. Figuring out how to ask the right questions, in depth and detail, relentlessly, about whether particular thoughts and actions are truly religious or just plain tribal may provide new keys to the battle over whose story wins.

Caveat: In proposing this, I’m not opposing tribalism in general, just the extremely dark kind. The tribal form of organization is fundamental to social evolution in all societies, past, present, and future. Getting the tribal form right matters; so does respecting its nature. I’m often just as worried about the dark sides of hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks. But in the case at hand, it’s the tribal form that’s in play, along with its implications for religion.
I’ve tried to argue for this view in various writings for some years now, but it never seems to gain much traction. Finding a clear convincing formulation still requires work. However, I detect a disincentive for proceeding in this direction; it is supposed to apply to the extreme tribalization of any religion. And that could mean that strategists in the “war of ideas” would have to decry tribalistic violence by Christian and Jewish sectarians along with Islamist ones, no easy task in today’s world. Meanwhile, I see that Lee Smith’s new book The Strong Horse (2010) may provide a supportive analysis, or so I gather from the excerpt — “Introduction: The Clash of Arab Civilizations” — recently published in the New York Times.

* * *

Finally, the irascible but illuminatory Fabius Maximus blog carried a post on “Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?” in December 2009. And I, still in a mood to comment on terrorist mindsets, hastened to impart that:

Today’s violent jihadis have two historical analogs that I like: one consists of the millenarians of the Middle Ages, which has received some attention at Zenpundit, notably via posts by Charles Cameron. The other analog consists of the 19th-20th century anarchists, and I’m delighted at the rare light you cast on this.

Many years ago we looked briefly at anarchists’ use of dynamite, the high-tech weapon of its time, as a possible analog for thinking about the potential appeal of nuclear terrorism for the kinds of terrorist groups that existed in the 1980s. Some themes we found in anarchist writings about dynamite that still resonate today included: using science against the system; empowering individuals to bring down the system; and breaking through to create a new time. The anarchists we looked at rationalized the usage of dynamite as a populist, scientific, moral, humane, and/or mystical-magical form of power.

Source: The Mindsets of High-Technology Terrorists: Future Implications from a Historical Analog (Rand, 1981)
In other words, if “they” can’t get us with their religion, they’ll try to get us with our science.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Incidentals (3rd of 5): apropos the future of conflict (and TIMN)

Some comments that fit in this five-part scrapbook pertain to the evolving nature of conflict. These comments include a couple of swipes at the “4GW” notion, followed by a reprise of John Arquilla’s and my view about the four ways of war associated with military history and social evolution à la TIMN — and I've inserted some additional remarks about the fourth way, our concept of swarming. I then tack on two comments about organizing for cybersecurity that reflect my view of the +N part of TIMN. In all this, there are a few — but only a few — observations that I’ve not made before.

* * *

I have long bridled at the notion of “Fourth Generation warfare” (4GW) and finally dropped a couple comments to that effect.

The first was at Adam Elkus’s keen blog Rethinking Security in September 2009, for a post he did in August doubting that conflict was becoming ever more fraught with “complexity” and likely to induce “state failure” here and there:
I quite agree that notions about state failure -- notably about states being eroded by tribal, market, and new network actors, as well as by internal corruption and incompetence -- have acquired excessive memetic momentum these past few years. My view remains that the state is far from finito. It’ll go through adaptations and reformulations, remaining essential for the construction and governance of complex societies.

Speculations about the decline of the state get tied to the rise of 4GW. It’s a concept I find attractive, but I’m continuing to have a problem with it: 4GW is presumably a postmodern kind of warfare. But I’ve yet to identify a wholly postmodern bunch engaging in 4GW in a violent manner. Instead, the ablest postmodern practitioners appear to be lobbyists, public-relation firms, and activist NGOs. Plus some cyber gangs dedicated to malevolent hacking.

But as for violent conflict, most (all?) of 4GW’s perpetrators so far -- to the extent that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, la Familia Michoacana, etc., reflect 4GW -- are laden with antique tribal and clan dynamics and engage in old modes of violence. In that sense, many of today’s exemplars of 4GW are primarily practitioners of PGW (pre-generation warfare, if I may?). The 1GW, 2W, 3GW, 4GW spectrum, as I understand it, leaves out this earlier mode, and recategorizes it under 4GW.

I wish I could find some clarification about this. I’m not asking for it here, but I thought I’d mention it because it relates to your able points: Many of these actors aim to reinstitute the state in some form.
I reiterated much of the preceding at Peter Hodge’s worthwhile blog The Strategist in November 2009 for a post he did criticizing the “generations of war” notion. But by then I could also add:
Recently, I came across an interesting timeline about 4GW that starts with the notion of a pre-formal generation of war: 0GW. It corresponds to my concern. To take a look, go here: http://timeline.dreaming5gw.com/XvX.php

Even so, I still find the whole 0-4GW spectrum problematic, and prefer other options.
* * *

I summarized the option I most prefer at the Chicagoboyz blog after learning about a post by Lexington Green in October 2009 that invited advice for a presentation on military history:
In a view that John Arquilla and I have elaborated before, the history of military organization and doctrine is largely a history of the progressive development of four fundamental forms of engagement: the melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming. Briefly, warfare has evolved from chaotic melees in which every man fought on his own, to the design of massed but often rigidly shaped formations, and then to the adoption of maneuver. Swarming appears at times in this history, but its major advances as a doctrine will occur in the coming years

If this formulation looks helpful and interesting, go here to download our old Rand study (it's free) on Swarming and the Future of Conflict. Chapter Two (pp. 7-23) is about the evolution of military organization and doctrine: melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming, with particular reference to the roles of information and information technology in the evolution of these four forms.

What that write-up does not show, except in a passing footnote, is that this formulation derives from a view of social evolution — a pet theory of mine (called TIMN) — which holds that, across the ages, societies have come up with only four major forms of organization: tribes, hierarchical institutions (as in states and their militaries), markets, and networks. Thus, early tribes are associated with melees, hierarchical institutions with the rise of massed formations, the rise of market-oriented societies with the turn to maneuver doctrines, and now the age of networks with swarming.
I did not elaborate there, but I’d note here that two other current notions of military swarming are deficient in our view: One has evolved around observations about “swarm intelligence” in nature (e.g., birds, bees, ants). It’s interesting, but it is more about decentralized flocking without any central command and control, rather than coordinated swarming as we understand it. Another view has grown around the notion of “network-centric warfare” (not to be confused with our notion of “netwar”). This view has taken swarming in a high-tech command-and-control direction having mainly to do with UAVs, leading to lots of corporate funding by the Pentagon. UAVs are important, but we'd rather see advances made at the soldiers’ operational level (e.g., in connection with Gant’s proposals for a tribal engagement strategy in Afghanistan). In any case, these two other schools of thought about swarming keep evolving in our direction.

For additional analysis of military swarming, see two spin-off writings by former Rand graduate student and colleague, Sean Edwards: Swarming on the Battlefield: Past Present and Future (Rand, 2000), and Swarming and the Future of Warfare (Rand, 2005). For an update on Arquilla’s thinking, see his article on “The New Rules of War,” Foreign Policy, March/April 2010, available online. Also try to get hold of his booklet Aspects of Netwar & the Conflict with Al Qaeda (Monterey, CA: Information Operations Center, Naval Postgraduate School, 2009; contact: infoioc@nps.edu). Insofar as social rather than military swarming is of interest, Arquilla's and my volume on Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (Rand, 2001) remains timely.

* * *

I’ve set cybersecurity aside as a focus since my July post here on “Toward a collaborative community for cyber defense?” Nonetheless, I dropped two tentative comments that reflect the rising importance of the +N in TIMN.

One was at the at IntelFusion blog, for a post by Jeffrey Carr in August 2009 about his forthcoming book Inside Cyber Warfare. He noted he “changed the focus of my final chapter from ‘A Public Private Partnership’ to something that I think is much more vital: ‘Advice For Policy Makers From The Field.’” And he invited formal submissions for compiling that last chapter.

I didn’t aim to participate, but I sensed an opportunity to reiterate a point I like to make, even though I never seem to be effective at making it:
Part of the problem may be the very term you emphasized in the former title of your final chapter: “public-private partnership.” This concept sounds so sensible, and it slides into place so easily in recommendations everywhere these days. But perhaps it’s an aging legacy concept, more suited to the passing industrial era than to the emerging information age, even though the latter’s proponents keep embracing it (which I’ve done at times too).

Consider its meaning(s): It divides matters into public (i.e., governmental) and private (i.e., business), as though they’re the only two sectors that exist. Good governance then mostly means finding the right mix of public and private measures to enable government and business, plus sometimes an occasional nonprofit civil-society actor, to work hand in hand. And this usually ends up meaning key/big government agencies allying with key/big business corporations, often through subcontracting and outsourcing.

I doubt (and I hope others doubt) that this is the wisest direction to keep trying to go in. For one thing, the two-sector/public-private model is headed for obsolescence. An additional sector has been emerging for years now, though its nature remains unclear and it still lacks a good name (Peter Drucker called it the social sector — I like that name best so far — but others call it the third sector, the citizen sector, or the social benefit sector). Whatever, it seems to consist mostly of relatively small, agile, non-profit organizations that pertain more to civil society than to government or business, and that are suited to operating in sprawling networks with each other, as well as with traditional public and private actors.

While this deep re-organizational trend bears mainly on the future of social issues (e.g., health reform?), it may also be significant for cybersecurity, especially cyber defense. Indeed, the way I see matters, your Grey Goose project is in this new sector.

I’m not disputing that the big government and industry actors have crucial roles to play. They do, and they must improve at operating in partnerships. But we Americans are going to need a multi-tiered, multi-sectoral cyber defense system (or set of systems) that is not adequately denoted or properly motivated by the prevailing notion of public-private partnership.
The trite simulation of a “cyber shockwave” that CNN presented this month, with an array of big government and industry players on stage, gives me no heart that my point is likely to resonate any time soon.

* * *

Finally, I left a string of comments at Matt Armstrong’s MountainRunner blog in September 2009 for his post on “preparing to lose the information war.” My comments ramble, but I reiterate them here anyway, much abbreviated and combined from across the string, because I still think there may be a good idea embedded in them somewhere.
. . . [A] lot of concerns that plague public diplomacy/strategic communication also plague cyber security. The difficulties faced in both issue areas — e.g., definition of terms and aims, search for able top leadership, key agency location, inter-agency responsibility, public-private coordination, even the role of NGOs — exhibit lots of curious parallels.

To some extent, these parallels reflect broader problems of government in our times. But at a deeper level, the parallels may owe to facts that both issue areas are about “information” and that much is still up in the air about the significance of this concept/dynamic. . . .

Your comment above about data vs. information reflects the so-called information pyramid. as your remark implies, it has a broad base of raw “data” and “facts,” atop which sits a middle stratum of “information.” The next, still narrower, higher stratum corresponds to information refined into “knowledge.” Atop all, at the peak, sits the most distilled stratum, “wisdom” — the highest level of information. The pyramid implies that the higher levels rest on the lower, but that is true only to a degree. Each layer has some independence — more data do not necessarily mean more information, nor more information more knowledge (or wisdom). Also, it should not be presumed that the hierarchy is driven from the bottom by data; values and value judgements may intrude at all levels. Moreover, critics object sensibly that “information” should not be mistaken for “ideas.” [Read more at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR880/MR880.ch6.pdf]

This looks like a good way (or one part of finding a way) to frame my point that the cybersec and stratcomm areas have a lot of parallels and linkages, and your keen point that cybersec is often mostly about ops at the lower levels and pubdip (info engagement) about ops at the higher levels of this pyramid. . . .

Under current circumstances, I suppose that officials who deal with public diplomacy and strategic communication rarely if ever talk to officials who deal with cyber security. Moreover, current proposals in both issue areas for new czars, coordinators, offices, whatever, would continue to keep them quite separate. . . .

Now, if our musings about the tie-ins between the two issue areas are more sensible than people have considered, then maybe those two sets of officials should be relating a lot more to each other. . . .

This does not mean that the same person(s) should be in charge of both issue areas. But a range of implications may be advisable. At a minimum, perhaps there should be occasional joint meeting to figure out and act upon the synergies. At a maximum, perhaps a National Information Council (or put cyber in the name somehow) should be established, and both issue areas (plus others, like media policy, as you raised?) should be associated with it.

. . . I’m not taken with the notion that a new cybersecurity advisor should report mainly to the OMB and the National Economic Council; that’s too business-oriented for my sense of what’s at stake. And you are not happy (nor am I) with what’s been going on with the treatment of public diplomacy and strategic communications. The maximum implication I posited above may well be too much, but maybe there’s an interesting range yet to be identified.

[CORRECTED — October 16, 2011:  This post originally referred twice to "the +I part of TIMN" when it should have referred to "the +N part of TIMN".  Correction made.]