“Man is something that should be overcome”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

What defines ” superempowerment” ? How is the dreaded ” super empowered individual” a different actor from a group engaged in systempunkt or old fashioned sabotage and demolition ?

In my view, leverage time and scale.

Super empowered individuals were something once relegated to the annals of science fiction, a creature of Hollywood movies or comic book villains. Some figures in history presaged “superempowerment” – from Archimedes of Syracuse burning the Roman fleet with reflective mirrors to bloody conquerors like Adolf Hitler, there have been men who succeeded in stamping themselves on their age.

Previously, such ” empowered individuals” were forced to act through some kind of collectivity, be it a Mongol horde or a modern state. In the near future, perhaps today, that will not be the case. Technology and knowledge and the will to power, will allow them to create global upheavals, unmediated and with perhaps the click of a mouse.

A super empowered individual, in my view, is autonomously capable of creating a cascading event that grand strategist Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett has termed a “ system perturbation“; a disruption of system function and invalidation of existing rule sets to at least the national but more likely the global scale. The key requirements to become “superempowered” are comprehension of a complex system’s connectivty and operation; access to critical network hubs; possession of a force that can be leveraged against the structure of the system and a wilingness to use it.

Military theorist John Robb has weighed in repeatedly on the instability that higher levels of dynamic interconnectivity wrought by globalization have brought. This connectivity and lack of redundancy and artificial ” brakes” in system flows extend the reach and amplify the magnitude of system perturbations. Local physical destruction, while spectacular or horrifying (9/11, 3/11, Beslan, Bali) is a distant second or even tertiary in importance to the ripple effects of a ” big bang” in the domains of economics, politics, law and mass psychology. High explosives will do less damage than could manipulation of derivatives, nanomachines or the DNA of an already lethal virus. Potential destruction of a catastrophic scale has been reduced to the time frame of individual choice.

On the other hand, the aspect that makes super empowered individuals potential “black swans” mitigates against any long run success. They are by their nature “one hit wonders” who succeed with the element of surprise and will be deadliest as “super empowered suicide bombers”, making no attempt to survive their cataclysm much less escape. Getting a “second bite at the apple” on that scale is virtually impossible as the system responds to the perturbation with a horizontal scenario that destroys, degrades or contains the non-state actor. The inability of these highly idiosyncratic super empowered individuals to coordinate their preparations or even be aware of one another, hobbles their longitudinal strategic capabilities.

How to deal with these known unknowns ? Two possibilities occur, the first is benign and the second is worrisome.

First, building systemic resilience should be both a national as well as an international priority. To quote Steve DeAngelis:

“The platforms for globalization — operating within and between modern states – increasingly are private-sector institutions. The modern, globalized state could not function without critical infrastructure industries, such as financial services, telecommunications, energy, healthcare, and food supply — all of which meet public needs, but are held in private hands. Essential talent and assets reside within those entities. And the private sector is the primary engine of innovation”

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