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I’m trying to figure it out

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — oh, i mean, the whole ball of wax, kit & kaboodle ]
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I’m trying to figure it out by catching glimpses in other people’s work, finding somethat are part of their pretty obvious ideas that are assumptions for tuthem and indicative of the state of affairs for me. I suppose I’m always on the lookout for such things, but today I’m going to shoot for the big picture.

Item #1 comes from David Ronfeldt, friend of this blog, who posted at TIMN:

It is no longer possible to think of corruption as just the iniquitous doings of individuals, be they street-level bribe payers, government officials, or business executives. In the five dozen or so countries of which Honduras is emblematic, corruption is the operating system of sophisticated networks that link together public and private sectors and out-and-out criminals — including killers — and whose main objective is maximizing returns for network members.

Boom! The main objective is to maximize returns, returns. Nobody says what retiurns are, everybody knows: returns are cash, money, moolah is what everyone is after, “follow the money” is equalled in popularity only by “cherchez la femme” — although “follow the dead Russians” has a temporary place in the sun if you follow John Schindler. Money, sex, that’s about it.

Sex. I’ll need an item for sex, eh?

**

Item #2 is prestige. I ound it at Tom Whipple‘s post, Starman, whichb describes a Norwegian jazz player’s rooftop searches for items of stardust.

So began the journey that would end with an autodidact gypsy-jazz musician publishing a scientific paper in a prestigious American geology journal,

The item here is prestige, yes, in the words “prestigious journal” — and the thing here is that anm autodidact made it into some prestigious pages, a jazz musician, imagine that!

Oh, and BTW, we are stardust:

I suppose you could call Joni Mitchell a jazz musician too, but she’s not — as far as I know — Norwegian,

**

Money, prestige, stardust.

Those are my findings so far, that’s what it’s all about. And I’m guessing, sex too, once I find an appopriate reference — oh, totally inappropriate, I’m afraid, not suited to office viewing. .

Sorry about that, I should have used a title-srolling clip from Sex and the City. I mean, good-looking means do it, plain and simple. Those guys who make films know what they’re doing.

I know, I know, I wemt from fishing phrases out of articles into fishing songs out of YouTube — but I’m still after “it” — and now we have money, prestige, stardust, sex..

I am beginning to see a glimmer of the human condition, la condition humaine. I mean, wars — civil and uncivil, compromise, film makers knowing who to film in filmy nightgowns, tight short skirts, and so on, and frankly, Trump, who epitomizes Sex and the City, has moola and no tax returns, and is made of greater stardust than the rest of us, I mean, he Trumps!

**

What else? I ask you, what else are we?

Frankly, there’s transcendence. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. This one’s from my memory trove — it’s from Thomas Traherne‘s little book, Centuries of Meditations:

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.

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.

**

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.

**

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)
  • Palmyra, the delirium

    Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — any sufficiently advanced Stargate is indistinguishable from magic ]
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    ronfeldt var

    **

    I spoke too soon. In a post yesterday, I wrote of Palmyra, the grief and the joy. I should have known better — there’s always an end-times element to the news, particularly when it touches on the history of the Middle East.

    In my tablet-format DoubleQuote above, you will find dire prognostications of one group of the apocalyptically aroused [upper panel, above] believing that the installation of a replica of the destroyed arch of Palmyra’s Temple of Baal in New York’s Times Square will unleash who knows what forces of evil upon the city — — a city which has in any case earned the sobriquet “Babylon” [lower panel] from others similarly apocalyptically aroused —

    In ancient times, child sacrifice and bisexual orgies were common practices at the altars of Baal, and now we are putting up a monument of worship to this false god in the heart of our most important city.

    April 2016: The Temple Of Baal Will Be Erected In Times Square In New York City

    A tip-of-the-hat, here, to Richard Bartholomew of the Batholomew’s Notes on Relighion blog, who pointed me in this direction.

    **

    But there is yet time to take comfort, if you will, in the Dispensationalist theology supported by yet other end-timers discussed in this article, Are you ready for the counter-apocalypse? to which David Ronfeldt kindoy pointed me, proposing that things must inm any case “get worse before they can get better, theologically speaking —

    Scofield, following Darby, taught that God governs and manages the world according to a sequence of distinct ages, or dispensations, each with distinct sets of rules and expectations. Each meets some kind of catastrophic end. In the Bible, as in Scofield’s life, things always got worse before they could get better—for instance, by Noah’s flood, or the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple, or whatever social degeneracy we observe around us. Fear not, for God is in control. The job of believers is to accept whatever dispensation they’re in and await, like eager spectators, the next catastrophe.

    Understanding sacred history like this has consequences for the present. Justice and peace need not be strived for now; we’re not in the right dispensation yet. Dispensationalists have held that even the beloved commands of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount can be neglected—love your enemies, give what you have to those in need, do for others what you’d have them do for you.

    As one of Scofield’s later followers reasoned, “Every businessman would go bankrupt giving to those who ask of him.” Dispensationalism permits a dose of pecuniary sense to some of the Bible’s more demanding social teachings.

    This theology spread in tandem with modern corporate capitalism, aided by Gilded Age benefactors like California oilman Lyman Stewart. A later follower of Scofield’s imagined that Christians who persevere through the present tumult will get to serve as a “ruling aristocracy, the official administrative staff” of Christ’s corporate kingdom to come. The bureaucrat, thus, is the model believer: Play by the rules you’re given, as excellently as you can, and even as the planet is engulfed in flames rest assured that all is well.

    **

    I’d have far less to write about — and we’d all live in a safer world — if we recognized that the outrageous varieties of apocalyptic expectation just might be the multi-headed beast St John of Patmos was talking about in Revelation, ahem.

    ISIS: Paganism with an Islamic Face?

    Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

    “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.”

    – Leviticus 18:21 

    “They rejected the commandments of the Lord … and served Baal. They consigned their sons and daughters to the fire”

    – 2 Kings 17:16–17

    “And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin”

      – Qur’an 17:31

    In a recent comment section conversation with Charles Cameron and RAND scholar David Ronfeldt on the character of Fascism and its resurgence, I remarked that ISIS adopting a Fascist style in its propaganda and governance may be drawing upon a ghastly and ancient lineage:

    ISIS is really embracing Fascism. It’s ceremonial public executions actually supercede what the Nazis and Fascists did only symbolically with blood flags and heroic cenotaphs and so on. It is reaching back to something very dark and protean, human sacrifice, as a political symbol. I think [ Moshe] Halbertal’s book On Sacrifice, is a useful reference here on how deep this goes culturally, to the bronze age or earlier.

    ISIS has for some time been making quite a perverse spectacle of its executions of prisoners, combatant and non-combatant alike, releasing videos to international fanfare and glorying in the resultant horror and global infamy. The precedent for this macabre “propaganda of the deed“was initially set by the forefather of ISIS, the Jordanian jailbird upjumped to “terrorist mastermind”, the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who originally led al Qaida in Iraq during the American occupation of Iraq. Prior to expiring after U.S. forces dropped a 500 lb bomb on his head, al-Zarqawi pioneered the use of  beheading videos, usually featuring himself being filmed incompetently and gruesomely sawing off an orange jumpsuit-clad captive’s head with a large knife, blood spraying everywhere.

    Zarqawi’s ghoulish innovation in terrorist messaging admittedly held a certain fascination for the psychopathic segment of Sunni Islamist extremists and it attracted foreign fighters of this nature to Iraq who in turn lionized Zarqawi as “the Sheikh of Slaughterers”; but the beheading videos also generally horrified public opinion in the Muslim world and repelled even hardened jihadis, earning Zarqawi a rebuke from al Qaida number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri:

    ….Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable – also- are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages. You shouldn’t be deceived by the praise of some of the zealous young men and their description of you as the shaykh of the slaughterers, etc. They do not express the general view of the admirer and the supporter of the resistance in Iraq, and of you in particular by the favor and blessing of God.

    ….However, despite all of this, I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma. And that however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. And we can kill the captives by bullet. That would achieve that which is sought after without exposing ourselves to the questions and answering to doubts. We don’t need this. 

    Zarqawi’s Iraqi bloodlust ended only because it was interrupted by the American military, but the leaders of ISIS have carried on. Far from accepting Zawahiri’s advice, they have doubled down, greatly upgrading the marketing of ritualistic murder from Zarqawi’s crude snuff films to slick videos with professional editing and high production values that have become central to the online “brand” of the ISIS “caliphate”. Like the hosts of a sinister game show, ISIS spokesmen have found the time to murder creatively in order to keep their audience of Islamist terrorist wannabes in the West tuned in and captivate the attention of the global media (though sometimes, things do not work  out as planned).

       

    However effective this circus of horrors has been at daunting their enemies and attracting the allegiance of “zealous young men” to ISIS, it reveals an atavistic impulse at play that no amount of Quranic hand-waving can paper over and conceal. Jurisprudence is absent here; not even the grim and rough Islamic “justice” of the Taliban is given to prisoners of ISIS, which violates the customary protections given under Islamic law or historical Muslim judicial practices. These choreographed and sensationalized executions by ISIS are really a cryptic revival of the ancient and terrible practice of human sacrifice, that in most cultures and religions had long been replaced by symbolic ritual, but once reigned supreme during the Bronze Age, not least in ancient Iraq, which if new findings are to be believed was like Aztec Mexico, a charnel-house of slaughter.

    Originating in the Stone Age, human sacrifice in the religious sense of an offering to the gods or God, lasted a surprisingly long time. Setting aside the preColumbian cultures of the New World, the ancient Romans, for example, did not formally outlaw human sacrifice until the first century BC, though the practice had become archaic and Rome vigorously sought to stamp it out among the Gauls and Britons, among whom human sacrifice was an accepted part of Druidic religion. Nor was human sacifice entirely unknown among the ancient Greeks of the classical period while child sacrifice was probably central to Carthaginian state rites to such a degree that other peoples of the time, including the Romans, found abhorrent.

    What occurred in many cases is that as civilizations evolved in social complexity, substitutionary practices for human sacrifice developed that served the same impulse, to propitiate and honor their God(s) and create powerful emotional bonds among the participants:  animal sacrifice, burial ceremoniesmysteries, religious ritual, necromancy, symbolism in theater and political matters of state religion. The Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac is itself a scriptural admonition to the ancient Hebrews to adopt animal sacrifice as most pleasing to God, a practice the Israelites and Jews of the classical period continued until the destruction of the second temple by the Roman general Titus. From that point on, from the close of the first century AD, Jews and the early, still Judaic, Christians moved away from the practice of animal sacrifice and substituted prayer and theology of salvation, respectively. Sacrifice, especially human sacrifice, became a distinguishing mark of paganism and the subject of Christian crusades in the middle-ages, like the brutal war waged by the Teutonic Knights against the human sacrificing Old Prussians and Lithuanian barbarian tribes.

    The Binding of Isaac

    The end of late medieval European religious warfare and the rise of the Westphalian system after the Thirty Year’s War slowly shifted the symbolic moral center of sacrifice from God to the State, with divine right monarchy serving as a waystation for the incubation of modern nationalism. There was an epistemic shift, as Halbertal argues in On Sacrifice from a sacred and mystical “sacrificing to” the sovereign God borrowed from the examples of Jewish martyrdom by early Christians who shared in the Romans the same persecutors. This shift opened the gates of permissible sacrifices, legitimating a new secular and political “sacrificing for” the glory of the State.

    It is a profound difference but occurring within the same phenomena, as illustrated by two quotes:

    …And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

    And the Lord said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

                                                                                  – Genesis 22:2

    And:

    ….But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow, this ground – The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

    It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

         – Abraham Lincoln

    Gettysburg and Antietam were not Mount Moriah. Neither were the Somme or Stalingrad the same as the Tophet. From time of the Patriarch Abraham to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, nations of men ceased to sacrifice usually helpless others but moved to sacrifice themselves in what they reckoned as the highest cause. Movement away from human sacrifice as practiced by ancient Carthaginian or animal sacrifice as practiced by most peoples of antiquity, including the Jews, to gentler substitutionary practices, Moshe Halbertal has called the “cataclysmic shift” in the history of civilization.

    If so, it is a shift that ISIS has begun to reverse.

    In their outstanding ISIS: The State of Terror, counterterrorism scholars Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger analyze the dark obsession ISIS has demonstrated in its propaganda messaging with exquisitely orchestrated executions:

    ….As we have noted, ISIS’s psychological warfare is directed at its potential victims. But it is also directed at those it aims to control. It is deliberately attempting to blunt its follower’s empathy by forcing them to participate in or observe acts of brutality. Over time, this can lead to secondary psychopathy, or a desire to harm others, and contagion of violence. Beheadings are one such tool for blunting empathy.

    Berger and Stern are likely correct that the methodical character of ISIS demonstrations of brutality are intended to desensitize the participants and (as they further explained) a tendency to cultivate secondary psychopathology in ISIS recruits, especially the young. A similar process occurred during the Holocaust with Nazi Einsatzgruppen and reserve unit police battalions detailed to assist the SS mobile killing squads on the Eastern front. Many serving in these units, already fanatical National Socialists, became inured to the suffering of women, children and the old who were shot and dumped still alive into mass graves, though some SS men showed signs of PTSD, depression and higher rates of severe alcoholism, desertion and suicide.

    The comparison between the genocidal cruelty of the SS and ISIS, while natural, is limited by a very important distinction. However zealous their ideological fanaticism and dedicated in their murderous mission to exterminate European Jewry, the SS lacked the context of moral certainty and the psychological reinforcement effects of religious exaltation enjoyed by ISIS killers. Even the malevolent Heinrich Himmler, in his secret speech to Nazi gauleiters and SS leaders, regarded the Final Solution as a terrible burden that the SS shouldered on behalf of the Fuhrer to assure Germany’s future; a “glorious” crime that Himmler believed must be kept forever hidden from history and the German people.

    Not so ISIS, which revels in its bloody terror. Worse, the repetition of garish executions as public celebrations by ISIS, with a vague but constant religious context, devoid of any shred of Islamic legality, inevitably acquire over time the theological characteristics of Halbertal’s “sacrificing to”  – what began as harsh jihadi jurisprudence and psychological warfare mutated under conditions of lazy, sociopathic brutality and totemic invocations of Islam into ritual “offering” by ISIS of its prisoners of war as human sacrifices in the manner of the ancient pagans. A perverse blasphemy, but one that draws on a powerful archetype deeply buried in the human psyche.

    ISIS leaders have not only looked into the Abyss, they have descended into and become one with it.

    Angels considered as an Air Force

    Saturday, September 12th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — when not dancing innumerably on the heads of pins ]
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    I responded to a question from David Ronfeldt today by saying I don’t know of a book that offers a “a sustained, point-for-point, systematic, thorough comparison” between earlier Christian and contemporary Islamist religious violence.

    I do share his concern for point-for-point comparisons, however, and this one popped up as I was working on my response to David:

    SPEC angels rank clairvaux

    These two quotes are abstract, indeed metaphysical, I know, and don’t deal with human-on-human violence as such — but the DoubleQuote they form is nevertheless a point-for-point comparison, and the very exactness of its counterpoint gives it the sort of power the best haiku have, I believe, offering us wit in brevity, multum in parvo, small is beautiful.


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