Rule-Sets, System Perturbations and 5GW -Curtis Gale Weeks

5GW Thought: Would a Goal of a 5GW Organization Be To Reduce the Resiliency of the Target State?” – Purpleslog

let’s get real about 5GW” – RevG

( Special thanks and hat tip to Tom’s trusty webmaster, Sean Meade whose recent creation”Tom and friends” made researching and assembling this post worlds easier)

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17 comments on this post.
  1. Lexington Green:

    I have not weighed in on this 5GW business because I simply do not know what it means. I have been reading other people’s posts, and trying to see what it is that is really under discussion. I have mixed feelings about whether the “GW” framework is useful, neutral or detrimental to comprehending the actual concrete realities that are in existence or likely to be in existence soon. I come at it from the military history side, admittedly as an amateur, and I think the framework is only a decent fit, not a great fit, with what actually happened in the past.

    It seems to me that there are at least two elements to this idea of a super-empowered individual. One, that extremely destructive technology will become sufficiently cheap and widely disseminated, that powers that were once limited to large numbers of people working together on behalf of nation states will be literally or figuratively in a single person’s hip pocket. So, idea is that the equivalent of the Unabomber or Osama or even Charles Manson will have, say, Hiroshima-nuke+ destructive capacity.

    Maybe this will happen. It seems reasonably likely it will. Who remembers the Alfred Bester story the The Stars My Destination? It had this same theme.

    A second theme is that due to globalization the complicated economic and technical machinery we are increasingly vulnerable to attacks on “vital nodes” which can cause cascading failure — hence creating juicy targets for 4GW warriors and our putative nuke-armed Ted Bundy.

    I find this second idea unconvincing. The essence of a market driven, networked, non-centrally-planned economy is the diffusion of skills and knowledge, redundancy, the capacity for work-arounds. The model I have in mind is the German economy in World War II. It was able to respond to devastating levels of attack and keep on going. And that was without cell phones, computers, the internet, etc. Just telephones, radios, and paper files and manual typewriters. Even if, as the Rand study posited, there were a nuke attack on the Long Beach container port, and it took $1 trillion off the top, it would not be fatal. We’d do workarounds. It would totally suck. No doubt. But we’d survive.

    In other words, we are resilient, and we have the capacity to become much, much more so when the incentives shift to make us want to be more so.

    I also wonder if the more dramatic Ray Kurzweillian scenarios might not occur, to some degree, creating a some unknowable number of truly super-empowered people (not merely super-destructive) due to enhancements that we can only roughly speculate about now. What such hypothetical supermen might do or want to do, individually or in concert, and on whose behalf, must for now remain very vague speculations.

    Anyway, I’ll repeat my disclaimer, I am frequently lost in the discussions about 4GW and 5GW. I thought I understood Hammes’ book, but the folks who are in this circle of discussants get into subtleties that elude me. I look forward to other responses to Mark’s post.

  2. Jayson:

    Second, is the countertintelligence equivalent preemptive war, discerning alienated but highly capable and dangerously positioned potential super empowered individual before they become active and taking some kind of action. This is a scenario rife with morally and constitutionally troublesome possibilities but the fact that the technology exists ( or soon shall) to do that kind of meta-data mining means that it is going to be done – and not only by governments.

    Hmm. This kind of reminds me of this episode of the TV series “Millenium,” from its final season:

    “Skull & Bones”
    http://301url.com/Millenium_Skull-Bones_Ep
    http://301url.com/Skull-Bones_Transcript

    See also:
    http://301url.com/5GW_Fiction_Comment
    http://301url.com/Earlier_Citation-Quotes

  3. Dan tdaxp:

    A second theme is that due to globalization the complicated economic and technical machinery we are increasingly vulnerable to attacks on “vital nodes” which can cause cascading failure — hence creating juicy targets for 4GW warriors and our putative nuke-armed Ted Bundy.

    I find this second idea unconvincing. The essence of a market driven, networked, non-centrally-planned economy is the diffusion of skills and knowledge, redundancy, the capacity for work-arounds. The model I have in mind is the German economy in World War II. It was able to respond to devastating levels of attack and keep on going. And that was without cell phones, computers, the internet, etc. Just telephones, radios, and paper files and manual typewriters. Even if, as the Rand study posited, there were a nuke attack on the Long Beach container port, and it took $1 trillion off the top, it would not be fatal. We’d do workarounds. It would totally suck. No doubt. But we’d survive.

    Sounds like an excellent critique against “Global Guerrillas” Theory, Lexington.

  4. Curtis Gale Weeks:

    Agree with Dan, although I also agree that though resiliency may ultimately defeat the inept ones (long term), major disruptions may have devastating short-term effects, Also, I suppose that whatever better systems emerge from these, a possibility exists that some quite negative things may emerge as well, diluting the ‘come back,’ although we might be unaware until some time later that the comeback has been diluted.

    Question for Mark and others…Do you consider the following to be ‘super-empowered’:

    Bill Gates
    Oprah Winfrey
    The folks at Google…

  5. Dave Schuler:

    This post may be a trifle backwards: features of modern economies can exist only within very narrow, fragile bands of technological and social conventions. Consider “Just In Time” inventory systems, offshoring of back office functions, and the shallow bench of most modern companies. These are all maximally vulnerable to disruptions in communications, transportation, and social networks.

    Your two examples of super-empowered individuals couldn’t be more different. Archimedes exploited physical principles. Hitler exploited the econonic, social, and political conditions.

    That, I think, is the mark of the contemporary super-empowered individual: a clever exploiter of the system. The examples of this are Bill Gates and Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden doesn’t have the ability to make weapons of his own, he buys them or exploits powerful technology belonging to others; nor does he employ these bombs himself, he inspires others to do his dirty work for him. He works as much through a “collectivity” as anybody.

    Only the destructive potential of these super-empowered individuals, a feature not of their own will and capabilities but of the devastating power of the technology available to the societies they may bring down, are new. This very discussion began nearly 200 years ago and, at the time, Napoleon was the model for the discussion. Another possible illustration for your post rather than The Incredible Hulk might be David’s famous portrait of Napoleon

    Nietzsche explored the idea in his Also Sprach Zarathustra, delineating concepts like the urge to power, the urge to destruction, and self-transcendence.

    But I think the definitive exploration of the question resides in Dostoeyevskiy’s Crime and Punishment. The isolation, consciencelessness, and ultimate weakness of the Superman is revealed there. Dostoeyevskiy’s superior sympathy with the human condition seconds the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus: conscience and compassion are essential.

  6. Shlok:

    Second, is the countertintelligence equivalent preemptive war, discerning alienated but highly capable and dangerously positioned potential super empowered individuals before they become active and then taking some kind of action. This is a scenario rife with morally and constitutionally troublesome possibilities but the fact that the technology exists ( or soon shall) to do that kind of meta-data mining and pattern recognition means that it is going to be done – and not only by governments.

    This will only still work while there are locks on knowledge/tech. Like Lexington touches on technology and information always move towards freedom. Including nuclear tech/knowledge.

    Give it another couple decades and the whole game changes.

  7. Dan tdaxp:

    although I also agree that though resiliency may ultimately defeat the inept ones (long term)

    We seem to be talking about “systempunkt” attacks here. Mark’s post is prefaced on the idea, I think, that there is some way for a super-empowered individual to identity a fragile part of the system and act on that for maximum effort.

    It does seem that time-scale matters. The longer a systempunkt attack goes on, the lower the likelihood of success.

    I think the British Coal Miner’s strike — an organizational (if not individual) attempt at systempunkt — makes this clear. It was dangerous for the government for the first few weeks. But once the system adapted to the challenge, the strikers were doomed.

  8. TM Lutas:

    It would seem to me that global guerrillas, in the sense that they are different than regular old guerrillas are a more primitive form of super empowered individuals. The damage that a national army used to be needed for is down-sized these days according to Barnett. Eventually you down-size right down to the individual level and thus alienated super empowered individuals become a new threat. In between, you get global guerrillas.

    But if two or more super empowered individuals act in concert, does that mean they cease to be super empowered? If a global guerrilla acts alone, does that make him a super empowered individual?

    So the Barnettian identification of the grand movement of downsizing violence is affirmed and two instantiations of the phenomena are global guerrillas and super empowered individuals.

    Now most super empowered individuals remain only potentially dangerous. Bill Gates or Oprah are very unlikely to morph into Spectre type villains. This is a separate question from whether they can. I think it’s pretty obvious that they could if they wanted to.

    Similarly, the number of potential global guerrilla groups out there is vastly larger than the actual number in active operations. One of the things that make’s John Robb’s vision much less scary is the simple fact that the operation of global guerrillas are likely to activate other potential groups dedicated to neutralizing the first bad actors. The GG phenomena is thus much less likely to bring bad results to the entire system as these groups will not operate all from the same playbook. In Iraq the great Sunni insurgency is breaking up on the rocks of the Shia and Kurd death squadswho are not global guerrillas only by virtue of the simple fact that they gain nothing by adopting those systempunkt tactics.

  9. Eddie:

    Jiang Yanyong qualifies as a “super-empowered” individual IMHO, risking his freedom singlehandedly exposing China’s duplicity during the SARS crisis. I mention him specifically because under different circumstances, if the PRC had made different choices, he could have been the catalyst who destablized the country at a time of heightened risk and instability within China, triggering a chain of events that could have made for a very different world than the one we live in today.

    Reading the post, I think in the end you focus on those who would undertake action with malicious intent, but the other side is more disturbing IMHO, those who undertake action without realizing the extent or consequences of their actions.

    One could think of hackers, single-minded assassins, whistle-blowers and others who could destablize any number of unrelated key sectors through their actions. Those would seem much harder to preemptively ID.

  10. Anonymous:

    Zen, excellent post. Right on the money. Systemic resilience is the ticket.

    Hopefully, Dan and company are right, in that we don’t have much to worry about since we are already so decentralized and resilient that it doesn’t matter.

    From my perspective, I am not convinced we are and consistently argue that it will take lots of time and effort to become so.

    Of course, we will in time, see which perspective works out.

    JR

  11. larry:

    “I have not weighed in on this 5GW business because I simply do not know what it means.”

    It really means simply evolution. It means when “you” become your own enemy.

  12. purpleslog:

    Bill Gates will nudge more toward 5GW territory as he will devote his time and his vast money (soon to be with a big chunk of Warren Buffet’s money too) to making changes to the world. George Soros has also been edging this way.

    Oprah and the Google dudes I do not know too much about.

  13. purpleslog:

    “It really means simply evolution. It means when “you” become your own enemy.”

    I don’t think that is a good characterization of a possible 5GW theory.

  14. Dan tdaxp:

    I’ve expanded my thoughts on how superempowerment effects the “systempunkt” over at tdaxp.

    PS: 5GW is just another evoked notch on the logarithmic scale of kinetic intensity, no?

  15. Larry:

    “I don’t think that is a good characterization of a possible 5GW theory.”

    I don’t know, maybe you have been slogging your purple too much, which is not 5GW, but evolution “is” the characteristic of 5GW.

    Perhaps if I said it was the power of the exponent, which is what I mean by evolution, it would be a better characterization of 5GW for you. You see, as Dan suggests, unless you have an exponent it is very hard to tell if it is, in fact, 5GW.

  16. Federalist X:

    mark: a couple of thoughts (and i apologize for being so late in the discussion)…

    first, i’m concerned that we are equating violence and disorder with empowerment. not so much from a motherly “that’s not what a good super hero would do” perspective (though i actually think thats a valid perspective) but from a philosophical perspective. many people are super empowered today, relative to their peers. compare the ability to effectuate positive change by a baby boomer nearing retirement to that of a disenfranchised, dislocated muslim from southern asia. the political power wielded by ordinary citizens in many of the world’s most advanced countries has never been greater. nor has the ability for these very same people to cause simple, yet nevertheless radical change. not so much from violence either. these are the most empowered people in the world and we seem to be discounting that. (though i will freely admit, and i am indeed working on, the problem of this positive empowerment waning).

    second, the emphasis on “black swans” is intriguing, but from an economic perspective it is unimpressive. we may be putting too much thought into preventing a nuclear suitcase instead of preventing bird flu. the latter will cause a global depression and impact the world for generations, the former is merely a short term liquidity crunch (i hate to say that, but its quite true.. 9/11 did little to effect basic economic cycles, it shortened some and lengthened others, but it didn’t completely alter the course of the economy, no black swan can).

    third, i’m struck by the lack of legal/political anaylsis here. this ties in with the first point, but the legal system in this country, and indeed in all common law countries, is built to be exceptionally stable and exceptionally adept at handling fact intensive scenarios. what it is not built for, however, is every time a threat pops up deciding that its time to rewrite the basic principles which it has relied upon for thousands of years. alterations, sure, changes in policy, why yes, but completely and permanently undoing legal principles ideas like due process, or judicial independence, simply because we may be faced with a nuclear powered hobgoblin seems misguied. it seems to me it is dangerously easy to jump off the cliff of changing the constitution and other foundational legal precepts willy nilly. just something to consider.

  17. mark:

    Hi FedX

    “third, i’m struck by the lack of legal/political anaylsis here”

    True – my focus was on defining the concept of super empowered individuals a little more clearly. Analyzing their implications in these domains is a second step to take.

    “is every time a threat pops up deciding that its time to rewrite the basic principles which it has relied upon for thousands of years. alterations, sure, changes in policy, why yes, but completely and permanently undoing legal principles ideas like due process, or judicial independence, simply because we may be faced with a nuclear powered hobgoblin seems misguied. it seems to me it is dangerously easy to jump off the cliff of changing the constitution and other foundational legal precepts willy nilly. just something to consider.

    I agree. A cardinal ethic for emergencies is that an emergency is not a normal and enduring state of affairs. Emergencies require well-considered and temporary exceptions after which a normal state of affairs resumes. Rules can be reset informally with common sense interpretations as well as formal legislative procedures.

    In the case of the Bush administration, military law provided ample historical precedents to deal with al Qaida detainees with requisite severity and speed by court martial or military commission. New laws were not required, just an actual determination to try detainees rather than hold them indefinitely.