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New Book: Strategy, Evolution and War

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Strategy, Evolution and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence by Kenneth Payne

This book by Kenneth Payne of King’s College  is newly released by Georgetown Press. I saw it mainly by chance while perusing my twitter feed and ordered a copy. At first glance, it looks very promising, albeit I have a bias toward cultural evolutionary frameworks. Perhaps it will get me more up to speed on the implications of Ai for emerging warfare.

Just thumbing through, Payne has a solid bibliography and some intriguing chapter and section headings. For example:

The Hoplite Revolution:Warriors, Weapons and Society
Passionate Statesmen and Rational Bands
The Ai Renaissance ad Deep Learning
Chimps are Rational Strategists, Contra Humans

Enough to whet the appetite. May discuss Strategy, Evolution and War further after I finish it.

What have you been reading in the realm of strategy or war lately?

David Ronfeldt: Readings on tribes & tribalism

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a catch-up post ]
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Despite his modest comments to the contrary, David Ronfeldt has in fact been posting up a storm on his Materials for Two Theories blog, bringing us up to date with his readings on tribalism as the key aspect of his TIMN (tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks) theory.

Just as I keep harping on the significance of — and our tendency to overlook — religious and particularly apocalyptic drivers across a range of problematic issues, so David relentlessly points to the significance of — and our tendency to overlook — tribalism as a key form in understanding many of those same issues.

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Most recent:

David’s two most recent posts are of particular interest.

#14: Richard Landes’s “How Thinking Right Can Save the Left” (2015)

Richard Landes, in addition to his encyclopedic work on apocalyptic matters, is the proponent of a game theoretical approach to the Israeli-Pakestinian question with considerable overlap with David’s focus on tribalism — regarding the core issue as that of a clash between zero-sum and win-win players, in which concessions made by the win-win player, in expectation of reciprocal concessions, are taken as victories, requiring no re ciprocation, by the zero-sum player.

I hope I got that right, albeit in very simplified / condensed form

#15: Mark Weiner’s “The call of the clan: why ancient kinship and tribal affiliation still matter in a world of global geopolitics” (2013)

Mark Weiner‘s entry is the one which comes closest to David’s TIMN work, and David accordingly uses parallels as a means of outside confirmation of certain of his own insights.

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The full monte:

Here, for your convenience, are David’s recent tribalism posts — some items deal specifically with America, one with Britain, and others are more general, but I have grouped them all together in the order of posting since David issued them as a numbered series:

  • Intro and #1: Sabrina Tavernise, “One country, two tribes” (2017)
  • #2: David Roberts, “Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology” (2017
  • #3: Daniel Shapiro, “Modern tribes – the new lines of loyalty” (2008)
  • #4: Charlie Sykes, “Where the Right Went Wrong” (2016)
  • #5: Ben Shapiro, “The Revenge of Tribalism” (2016)
  • #6: Robert Reich, “The New Tribalism and the Decline of the Nation State” (2014)
  • #7: Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Politicians benefit from American tribal warfare” (2014)
  • #8: Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer, “How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics” (2016)
  • #9: Deepak Chopra, “After Trump, What Will It Take To Heal?” (2016)
  • #10: Jalaja Bonheim, “Why We Love Trump” (2016)
  • #11: NeoTribes, “NeoTribal Emergence” (2016)
  • #12: Ross Douthat, “The Myth of Cosmopolitanism” (2016)
  • #13: Kenan Malik, “Britain’s Dangerous New Tribalism” (2015)
  • #14: Richard Landes’s “How Thinking Right Can Save the Left” (2015)
  • #15: Mark Weiner’s “The call of the clan: why ancient kinship and tribal affiliation still matter in a world of global geopolitics” (2013)
  • Infinity Journal: Can Grand Strategy be Mastered?

    Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    The new edition of Infinity Journal is out and they have a most interesting article by Dr. Lukas Milevski, a promising young scholar best known for his recent book The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought.

    Can Grand Strategy be Mastered?

    ….The first conceptualization of grand strategy, broadening the concept to include all instruments of national power and not simply the military, may arguably be quite useful. Policy-makers and strategists all should understand how military power fits in with non-military power, and vice versa, to achieve desired effects. They must understand the assumptions which implicitly underpin each form of power and how they integrate and contradict among themselves. As Lawrence Freedman argued in 1992, “[t]he view that strategy is bound up with the role of force in international life must be qualified, because if force is but one form of power then strategy must address the relationship between this form and others, including authority.”[ix]

    The use of non-military power against an adversary in war is clearly not simple diplomacy, but also is not encompassed within classical definitions of strategy. Grand strategy may or may not be an appropriate term for it; in recent decades the British have labeled it the comprehensive approach. Yet, given how many authors have paid lip service to the variety of forms of power inherent in this interpretation of grand strategy, the amount of attention actually dedicated to the non-military forms of power has been startlingly low. As Everett Carl Dolman suggested in a somewhat blasé manner, “[a] worthy grand strategist will consider all pertinent means individually and in concert to achieve the continuing health and advantage of the state.”[x] Yet one may reasonably ask, ‘but how?’ To make connections among categories and among distinct fields and disciplines is one of the primary purposes of theory, yet this has simply not been done in the grand strategic literature even when this task is implicit and inherent in the definition of the concept itself.[xi] Furthermore, without the achievement of this difficult scholarly work, grand strategic theory which adheres to this form of the concept will never fulfill Clausewitz’s appreciation of theory.

    ….In principle, grand strategy, conceived along the lines of incorporating multiple instruments beyond the military, can indeed be mastered. However, there is no theory yet which may guide those who desire to master grand strategy in this manner. Practice in the world of action may, of course, still take place without theory—or at least academic theory. Yet without proper guidance, chaos among the various military and non-military instruments is inevitable. They will not work properly together; they may even achieve contradictory effects; and so forth. The comprehensive approach, as practiced in Afghanistan and Iraq, has not been particularly successful.
    The second conceptualization of grand strategy, as being placed above policy in a hierarchy of ideas and duties, along with the subsidiary characteristic of enduring over lengthy periods of time, is less transferable to the world of action. Each aspect of this second understanding of grand strategy contributes individually to limiting the transferability of the concept.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Milevski is a grand strategy skeptic and as such he raises fair questions in his article regarding grand strategy as an actionable thing that some enterprising official, politician or military officer could master. Though he does not raise it explicitly, Milevski’s argument reflects a longstanding debate on whether grand strategy is even a thing one can do or is merely a retrospective historical explanation. Aiding Milevski is that while there has been much learned commentary on grand strategy by eminent scholars or practitioners like Kennan and Kissinger, conceptually it is a muddle with competing definitions and lacking a coherent accepted theory. Much like obscenity, we seem to know grand strategy when we see it (Containment! Bismarck!) but can’t really explain why it happened here and not there.

    The two competing definitions Milevski raises complement one another but they are not the same. The first is what is sometimes in America called a whole-of-government approach to conflict and Milevski admits this version of grand strategy is one that could potentially be mastered, albeit there is no pathway to do so. The reason for this is that is that grand strategy requires a fairly robust centralization of political power to be realized. To do grand strategy, it helps if you are Otto von Bismarck, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Pericles, Peter the Great or some similar figure. Middle level bureaucrats in democratic polities might conceive or suggest grand strategies but unless they convincingly sell their idea to the ruling elite and then the elite to the public (Dean Acheson, for example, “scaring the hell out of the country”) it won’t become actionable policies, diplomatic agreements or military operations. This is possible but rarely happens without an existential strategic threat or at least the perception of a serious one.

    Milevski is less enchanted, as are Clausewitzians generally, with the second version of grand strategy that posits a great idea or theme floating above policy, guiding it over very long periods of time such as decades or centuries. Objectively, it is hard to come up with a rationale why this could not be happening more often because it doesn’t though we can point to examples where nations or empires have followed a principle consistently in peace or war for a very long period of time; for example, Britain seeking to prevent any power from dominating continental Europe or China’s tributary system for managing dangerous barbarian tribes and neighboring states. Subjectively, Clausewitzians simply don’t like “grand strategy” violating the hierarchy Clausewitz set forth to explain the relationship between politics/politik, policy and strategy in war. Milevski spends time on this objection specifically.

    I’m less troubled by the contradiction than Dr. Milevski, though it’s worth considering that in theory the two different versions of grand strategy could be different phenomena instead of competing definitions of one. Much of the first version of grand strategy could also be termed “statecraft” and the second is something like John Boyd’s theme of vitality and growth or at a minimum, an aspirational security paradigm. It’s more of a vision or an opportunistic operating principle than a well honed strategy  or clearly defined end-state. It is open-ended to permit maximum political flexibility and accommodate many, at times competing, policies. The second version of grand strategy is not at all strategy in the sense applied to a theater of combat for concrete objectives; it is more political, more gestalt.

    JM Berger’s latest, 1

    Friday, April 21st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — JM’s sustained attack on Christian Identity and ISIS ]
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    JM on his latest piece:

    I’ve kept those first three tweets in Twitter form becaue they include graphics. JM’s series continues on twitter, but here I’m reformatting it as regular prose for ease of reading:

    The paper is first in a series aiming to develop a framework to study extremism as a phenomenon crossing ideological boundaries.

    The framework I’m presenting is derived from a grounded theory approach, using Christian Identity as a starting point. The paper traces how Christian Identity emerged from a non-extremist precursor, and what that says about identity and group radicalization. It also offers new (and probably controversial) definitions of extremism and radicalization, seeking to address a serious gap in consensus. Finally, it offers some ideas for counter-messaging and deradicalization derived from the framework.

    The next in the series will apply the framework to ISIS propaganda with concrete notes on how the framework informs counter-messaging. I’m ultimately asking what ISIS has in common with Christian Identity, and what that tells us about each and both.

    An important approach, IMO.

    **

    JM Berger’s latest, 2 will present his accompanying overview of recent work in the field.

    Thucydides Roundtable, Book III: A Layered Text

    Monday, November 7th, 2016

    [by Joseph Guerra]

    In my first post on this Roundtable I brought up the concept of strategic narrative and how it serves as a link between Thucydides and Clausewitz from a strategic theory perspective.  Describing the layered nature of The Peloponnesian War, Ned Lebow, expanding on W. Robert Conner, outlines four levels of narrative:  The first regards “interest, justice and their relationship”.  The second is the story of Athens as a tragedy.  The third, following the second, is “the relationship between nomos (convention, custom, law) and phusis (nature) and its implications in the development and preservation of civilisation”.  The fourth and final level in this outline is the “meta-theme” of the entire narrative: “the rise and fall of Greek civilisation, and the circumstances in which different facets of human nature come to the fore”.

    This follows a standard approach to many great works.  The idea that the author is not so much presenting a story, as much as attempting to engage with the reader, get them to question their own preconceived notions about a subject, essentially to create a dialectic in which the reader is able to achieve a higher level of understanding through a process of reading, questioning, contemplating and then going on to the next related element, while at the same time retaining the conceptual whole and how the various elements are related.  Not so surprisingly the same is said about Clausewitz’s On War.

    The Corcyrean revolution is chillingly described in 3.70-3.85.  Here we see all the levels of the narrative displayed as complex interactions.  Interest has overcome justice, which in any case is only achievable among equals.  But does actual equality exist between humans, as in democratic structures of government, or are they simply a myth?  Conventions and customs fall prey to human nature and impulse, while the meanings of words decay (through narrow interest) which in turn has an effect on actions, which in turn has to be justified thus leading to further decay of the overall narrative.  As with Thucydides’s description of the plague in Athens in Book II, some respond heroically to this turmoil (stasis), but most succumb giving themselves over to impulse and/or fear and act in ways that would have been inconceivable prior to the crisis.  Civilisation itself, which requires a basis (shared interests, justice, language, common conventions, etc,) for stability, starts to come apart.  This all follows more or less the development of a Greek tragedy, or repeated tragedies, with the implication that this is more the nature of humanity as a whole, than being limited to a specific time and place.


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