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Downward Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

Friday, October 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a thoroughly impertinent riff on that saying of von Moltke ]
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Hw many places could this sentence be applied to?

But the latest attacks, which appear to have been several months in the preparation, threaten to draw the entire population into a downward spiral of deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns by the security forces and toxic relations between local communities and the authorities.

It happens to come from an article about the Rohingya, Richard Horsey‘s Reality bites for Aung San Suu Kyi amid surging violence from the Nikkei Asian Review.

But how many other places might such a sentence apply to?

I ask this because we tend to focus on certain words in a sentence like this: attacks, preparation, threat, population, deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns, security forces, local communities, the authorities. Those are the forces in play, if you will. But their play follows the rules of a certain game, and that game is also named in the sentence.

Its name is downward spiral.

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vatican-spiralSpiral staircase, the Vatican, Rome

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What I want to suggests that we might learn a great deal if we shifted our attention from attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest, and thought about spiral.

Spiral is the form that the attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest — here and in those other places — takes, and as such it’s an archetype that underlies them, not just among the Rohingya, their Buddhist compatriots and Aung San Suu Kyi, but across the globe and through time itself.

Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

**

If, as I suppose, von Moltke can be translated as saying, “no operating concept survives contact,” it would seem we may need to conceptualize contact, ie the complexity of relations, rather than operations, which are far more focused on us — how we “will prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars” — than on conflict and wars, both of which are minimally two-party affairs.

And I’m not trying to say anything so terribly new here, just to give fresh phrasing to Paul Van Riper‘s comment:

What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.

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sintra-castle-spiral-credit-joe-daniel-price-740x492Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal, credit Joe Daniel Price

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The sentence immediately preceding the one from the Nikkei Asia article I quoted above will hopefully illuminate hope in a pretty desperate situation:

The majority of this community and its religious leaders continue to eschew violence.

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Image sources:

  • Both spiral images from the Top 10 Spiral Architecture page
  • Quick airport security ouroboros, sad

    Thursday, September 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — here’s an example of recursion as farce, closing in on tragedy ]
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    This:

    The last kid who searched me, a young Muslim boy with an immaculate line-beard and goatee, was particularly apologetic.

    “Sorry bro. If it makes you feel any better, they search me before I fly too.”

    From a Guardian “long read” with a great deal of airport frisking — and worth yout time:

  • Riz Ahmed, Typecast as a terrorist
  • **

    So the frisker gets frisked by the friskers. I suppose that’s one answer to Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Review: The Rule of the Clan

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

    I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

    Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

    Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

    Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

    Strongest recommendation.

    Birds of a feather

    Monday, December 14th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in this case, Trump / Clinton ]
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    Friend of a friend or two Corey Robin on FaceBook — as quoted by Michael Degerald — pointed up an illuminating DoubleQuote between Trump and Clinton, which I’ve dropped into my usual graphical format:

    SPEC DQ Trump Clinton

    Whatever diagnosis you might be inclined to make of one of these two persons on the basis of their quote, perhaps you’d like to consider affixing it to the other one likewise..

    **

    It’s that old liberty / security paradox, chestnut, koan or trade-off again, isnh’t it?

    The President’s Speech

    Monday, December 7th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    obama

     

     

     

     

     

    President Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorism San Bernardino that killed 14 people. You can read a transcript of his speech here. A few quick comments:

    It is a positive, albeit small, step toward realism in the White House that the President managed to connect an act with terrorism with radical Islam as a causal factor in public. Furthermore, the recognition that our policies on immigration from states with extremely problematic connections with Islamist extremism and terrorism (i.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) contributed to the massacre is a welcome change. Recall that the administration’s initial reaction was to call the murders “gun violence” -as if the culprits here were some kind of mystery – and for the Attorney-General to make disturbing noises about criminalizing free speech critical of Islam she found objectionable.

    The President’s reluctance to get into a large ground war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria is laudable. That does not mean our current actions against ISIS are effective or vigorous. They have been up until Russia’s intervention in Syria, remarkably tepid. It is laudable because at present the administration lacks a strategy for a major ground campaign; would be diplomatically unable, or find unpalatable, coordinating such a campaign with Russia, Iran, the Kurds, the Iraqi government, France and Turkey; and because the Congress and public would not wish to pay for a war of that magnitude. The President’s current strategy of air power, special forces, advice and aid is not bad in principle, but will not likely be effective in crippling ISIS unless ramped up by many orders of magnitude. Even then it would be a process of grinding ISIS down over time. Will this POTUS do that?

    The President’s plea for gun control on semi-automatic rifles is a pet partisan issue for liberal Democrats irrelevant to stopping terrorism. It has no chance of passing either House of Congress. He will have no luck either with barring people on the No-Fly list from buying guns until he proposes legislation that specifically accommodates the due process rights of the accused. Nor should he until this happens, given the number of people who have ended up on the unaccountable, secret, No-Fly list out of error, capricious bureaucrats, mistaken identity and for being critical in print or online of the performance of government agencies.

    The fact is the POTUS is by this time, a lame duck while 2016 campaigning is well under way. The president has never liked compromise with Republicans or advice from fellow Democrats and has kept counsel with a very small group of advisers in his second term. We are unlikely see much change in policy without a broadening of his inner circle.

    What did you think of this speech?


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