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Skulls & Human Sacrifice: Bunker and Sullivan on Societal Warfare at SWJ


Altars to Santa Muerte, “Saint Death” to the poor and the narcocultos

SWJ has been en fuego the last few days and this is the first of several that I recommend that readers give close attention.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker and Lt. John Sulivan are indicating that the canary in the coal mine phase of Mexico’s narco-insurgency has passed. Mexican society is entering a new and more dangerous period of accelerating cultural devolution. Nacro-insurgent violence has shifted from the economically motivated and brutally instrumental of organized crime syndicates everywhere to culturally totemic and ghastly ceremonials out of tribal prehistory:

Extreme Barbarism, a Death Cult, and Holy Warriors in Mexico: Societal Warfare South of the Border? by Dr. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

…Our impression is that what is now taking place in Mexico has for some time gone way beyond secular and criminal (economic) activities as defined by traditional organized crime studies.3 In fact, the intensity of change may indeed be increasing. Not only have de facto political elements come to the fore-i.e., when a cartel takes over an entire city or town, they have no choice but to take over political functions formerly administered by the local government- but social (narcocultura) and religious/spiritual (narcocultos) characteristics are now making themselves more pronounced. What we are likely witnessing is Mexican society starting to not only unravel but to go to war with itself. The bonds and relationships that hold that society together are fraying, unraveling, and, in some instances, the polarity is reversing itself with trust being replaced by mistrust and suspicion. Traditional Mexican values and competing criminal value systems are engaged in a brutal contest over the ?hearts, minds, and souls‘ of its citizens in a street-by-street, block-by-block, and city-by-city war over the future social and political organization of Mexico. Environmental modification is taking place in some urban centers and rural outposts as deviant norms replace traditional ones and the younger generation fully accepts a criminal value system as their baseline of behavior because they have known no other. The continuing incidents of ever increasing barbarism-some would call this a manifestation of evil even if secularly motivated-and the growing popularity of a death cult are but two examples of this clash of values. Additionally, the early rise of what appears to be cartel holy warriors may now also be taking place. While extreme barbarism, death cults, and possibly now holy warriors found in the Mexican cartel wars are still somewhat the exception rather than the rule, each of these trends is extremely alarming, and will be touched upon in turn.

Read the rest here.

Some of the anecdotes in this article read like the climax scenes of Apocalypse Now in the Cambodian lair of Marlon Brando’s insane Colonel Kurtz or a bloody reverie of Hannibal Lecter. While the scale is not the same, the mad cruelty equals anything seen in the eastern Congo and seems to surpass everywhere else.

17 Responses to “Skulls & Human Sacrifice: Bunker and Sullivan on Societal Warfare at SWJ”

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    Do you remember DH Lawrence, in The Plumed Serpent?  All those years ago, he imagined a Mexico in which there was a renaissance of the "old ways" – of the religion of Teotihuacan, with its sacrifices:

    It was the acquiescence in the primitive assertion. It was the renewal of the old, terrible bond of the blood-unison of man, which made blood-sacrifice so potent a factor of life. The blood of the individual is given back to the great blood-being, the god, the nation, the tribe.

    I think Lawrence deserves a second reading at this point.
    And I’m reminded of Christopher Taylor‘s little book, Sacrifice as Terror, in which he comments that different societies ‘write’ their signatures onto the bodies of their sacrificial victims (p. 127, following Kafka) and explores in detail the close correspondences between the actual brutalities inflicted in the Rwandan genocide and the symbolism and rituals of Tutsi sacred kinship – including some that "Europeans would have found difficult to accept: ritual copulation on the part of the king and his wives, human sacrifice, ritual war, and adornment of the royal drum with the genitals of slain enemies."
    While the details are no doubt different, that short list touches on several of the issues that Bunker and Sullivan also discuss, and it seems from their account that a similar ritualistic and symbolic consonance with earlier mythic and ritual structures can also be found in the Mexican situation.
    Time permitting, I’d hope to explore these correspondences in further detail.

  2. zen Says:

    Hey Charles,

    I agree. Peasant societies often preserve folk religious and "magick" bargaining-with-spirits beliefs for centuries under the veneer of orthodox, institutional religion. I wonder if any of this ghoulish violence is dredged up, half-remembered, distorted and culturally evolved mestizo approximations of old Aztec practices? And how much is imitative from fictional sources? A murderous mash-up.

  3. Mercutio Says:

    A good resource to track news relating to the Mexican cartels is The Borderland Beat.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    The first sentence of Eric Hobsbawm‘s Primitive Rebels reads:

    THIS essay consists of studies on the following subjects, all of which can be described as ‘primitive’ or ‘archaic’ forms of social agitation: banditry of the Robin Hood type, rural secret societies, various peasant revolutionary movements of the millenarian sort, pre-industrial urban ‘mobs’ and their riots, some labour religious sects and the use of ritual in early labour and revolutionary organizations.

    Recommended as relevant background by John Hall of UC Davis,who has commented here on ZP, and whose most recent book is Apocalypse: From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity (2009).

  5. david ronfeldt Says:

    excellent insights by bunker and sullivan.  further grist that "mexico lindo y querido" is being eaten alive by a rebirth of "mexico barbaro".
    good supplemental article today on dto’s use of uniforms and insignia reports that: 
    "The gangs outfitting themselves like the government is just another way for them to announce that the official Mexican leadership has lost its authority in those places. “This is not only about drug running,” Campbell said, “but about becoming regional powers repackaging the Mexican government.”"from: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/05/23/bloody-mexican-gangs-make-official-uniforms-insignia/

  6. Joseph Fouche Says:

    I read a biography of the Basque explorer Juan Bautista de Anza (the Elder) who was active in northern New Spain between 1712-1740. Passages in the book referred to occasional outbreaks of what seemed to be legacy Aztec beliefs from time to time which were often accompanied by rebellion. This was 200 years after the Conquest so it’s possible that subterranean traditions endured to the present. It’s also possible that some underemployed Mexican humanities major checked a book out from the library, got inspired, and indoctrinated a patch of semi-peasants like Subcommandante Marcos. 

  7. zen Says:

    What amazes me is the *speed* of the moral descent. I just reviewed Narcos Over the Border and what were fringe outlier examples in a book written in 2010 are rapidly becoming normalized activities by narco-insaurgents and exceeded.
    As a commenter at CB put it, cannibalism would be no surprise at this point

  8. Charles Cameron Says:

    Subcomandante Marcos is an interesting figure, M. Fouche.
    I’ve been looking at his writings in Our Word is Our Weapon today, reading up on his more recent doings — he’s aligned himself with the poet Javier Sicilia (whose son was recently butchered) and Sicilia’s call for an end to the war on drugs — and turning back to David Ronfeldt‘s RAND report with John Arquilla, The Zapatista "Social Netwar" in Mexico (1998) along with David’s update-chapter (2007) on his Visions from Two Theories blog…
    David has a key paragraph in his 2007 update that I’d like to draw to our attention:

    Whatever befalls the Zapatistas in the future, their social netwar of 1994-1996 will remain a seminal model for (mostly) nonviolent social netwar elsewhere around the world.[8] Indeed, activists who have emulated the Zapatista example have often been successful at achieving their aims. In Asia, for example, the deepening of pro-democracy movements in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and South Korea have been facilitated by the social-netwar paradigm, which has helped guide opposition movements into power in several countries. In Europe, a series of "color revolutions” — empowered by organizational networking and netwar techniques — has toppled authoritarian systems across a range of countries, from Serbia and the Ukraine to transcaucasian Georgia. In all these cases the Internet, the World Wide Web, and other information-age tools have proven crucial for the creation of powerful social and political forces.

    I’m aching to ask David (who already commented once in this thread) how he feels about this paragraph – regarding the Zapatista influence, netwar, and the trend towards nonviolence – in light of the ongoing "Arab Spring"…

  9. david ronfeldt Says:

    to answer your question, charles:  the “arab spring” is indeed a continuation of “social netwar” in another part of the world.  the zapatistas remain a seminal forerunner, mainly because of the info-age roles played by the mexican and transnational ngos that swarmed to support subcomandante marcos and his indigenous cohorts in chiapas.  
    their struggle — marcos’s inspirational rhetoric in particular — was often loaded with archaic, naturalist, mystical, mythical, fabulist, and religious references.  but in no way did the zapatistas exhibit any barbarism, death-cult, or holy-warrior tendencies that bunker and sullivan document among the latest narcos in mexico.  these gangsters are waging a criminal netwar that has taken a horribly dark turn, one that appears to hark back to ancient aztec practices, but resembles even more the demonic violence of sunni-shia sectarian warfare in iraq in the 2000s.  
    lots of questions remain to be asked and answered about the sources behind what bunker & sullivan have so ably raised.  but i’d rather make a tangential follow-up point about the “arab spring” though it means i’ll drift somewhat off-topic for this post:
    for months, many arab commentators have observed that the uprisings are mainly about “dignity”:  e.g., identity and dignity, or dignity and freedom, or some other combination — but always dignity.
    in contrast, american observers keep saying the uprisings are mainly about “democracy” — freedom and democracy in particular.  some arabs include a call for democracy with their call for dignity; but americans only occasionally acknowledge their parallel pursuit of dignity.  in fact, americans rarely think about dignity; we’re raised to assume it.  language about dignity slides right through our modernized minds.
    yet, in many cultures, dignity is a more crucial concept than democracy.  dignity (along with its customary companions: respect, honor, pride) goes to the core of how people want to be treated.  it’s an ancient tribal as well as personal principle.  indeed, it’s central to the tribal form.  tribal and clannish peoples think and talk about dignity far more than do americans and other westerners in advanced liberal democratic societies.
    in the arab spring, what many arabs seem concerned about is thus more primal than democracy.  they’re fed up with the indignities inflicted by corrupt, rigged patronage systems, by rulers and functionaries who act in predatory contemptuous ways, by the endless abuse of personal rights and freedoms — in other words, by all the insults to their daily sense of dignity.  of course, many arabs seek democracy too; and dignity and democracy (not to mention justice, equality, and other values) overlap and can reinforce each other.  but dignity and democracy are not identical impulses, nor based on identical grievances.  in some situations, the desire for dignity trumps the desire for democracy.  
    this interplay between “dignity” and “democracy” may have implications for u.s. policy and strategy.  i’m not exactly sure what they are, but it seems to me that we ought to be analyzing and operating as much in terms of dignity as democracy.  i bring this up not only because americans tend to overlook the significance of the dignity principle, but also because i detect a dignity-democracy fault-line among the arab-spring’s protagonists — a fault-line that may relate to whether the arab spring ends up having democratic or re-authoritarian consequences.
    my sense is that the younger modernizing protagonists of the arab spring may well be pursuing democracy (along with dignity) as their strategic goal, but the older, more traditionalist elements operating alongside them are more interested in pursuing dignity, without necessarily favoring democracy.  and the latter may be stronger than we have observed.  if so, the quest for dignity may be satisfied by outcomes that have little to do with democracy:  say, for example, a shift in tribal and clan balances, an enhanced appeal for islamic law (shariah), or a charismatic call for strong government devoid of foreign influence.  it may be easier, and more popular, to gratify a quest for dignity than a quest for democracy.
    i’m led to these observations via the TIMN framework about the four major forms of organization that lie behind social evolution:  tribes + hierarchical institutions + markets + info-age networks.  the young modernizing protagonists of the arab spring express the nascent +N part of TIMN, while the older traditionalist elements remain steeped in the ancient pro-T part — and therein lies the fault-line i mentioned earlier.  but much as i’m tempted to shift now to elaborate an analysis in TIMN terms, it would make this long comment way too long.  so i’ll reserve it for another time and place.
    to end on a note more in line with the focus of this post — narcos in Mexico — my sense is that they too, as they slide deeper into a demonic kind of tribalism and clannishness, would claim that they are acting on behalf of notions they value about dignity, honor, pride, and respect.  they don’t want democracy to limit their dignity.  

  10. slapout9 Says:

    I think this is a good example of what Boyd meant when an enemy becomes inward focused, it will begin to destroy itself. It will begin to worship death instead of life.

  11. Charles Cameron Says:

    I’d love to see that Boyd quote..
    I’ve seen "Any command and control system that forces adherents to look inward, leads to dissolution/disintegration (i.e., system comes unglued)" — which is pretty much your first statement — but did he actually say something about the worship of death, or is that your extrapolation of his intent?
    I ask. because if he did say such a thing, it would be very much on point (a) for the cult of Santa Muerte, and (b) for the Islamist slogan "we love death as you love life."
    The role of "death-desire" (death wish, death worship, death cult) and its relationship with both ritual murders and suicide martyrdoms clearly demands further inquiry. It is not something the rational, post-Enlightenment western mind easily grasps.

  12. zen Says:

    I think Slap was being poetical – Boyd meant that when you "fold" an enemy in on himself (themselves/it) by getting inside their OODA Loop and causing an increasing mismatch with reality, that mismatch sets off a vicious circle of bad action-worse reaction that has self-destructive effects on the enemy’s center of gravity – shatters it’s cohesion.

    This could very well manifest itself socially as fratricidal infighting, treason, purges, reigns of terror, civil war etc. but not always. Simple disintegration as a coherent entity is also  likely
  13. slapout9 Says:

    Charles Cameron, cain’t show it to you, but you can hear it. Polarbear from SWC sent me a set of tapes from a lecture Boyd gave to a bunch of Marines and I tell you what the whole Boyd theory is very differnat when hear him say it as opposed to being told what he said or meant. Zen’s interpretation is exactly what he really meant. I am trying to get tanscription made but it takes time and money as the session was recorded on a cassette tape recorder. He (Boyd) literally means to drive the enemy insane! The OODA loop would be better described as the Consusion loop.

  14. Charles Cameron Says:

    Much appreciated — thanks, both.

  15. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi slapout9, Should be pretty easy to digitize the cassette. I for one would love to hear from the horse’s mouth. If you can copy the cassettes, I can make the transition to digital. And you are right about Boyd wanting to drive the enemy insane.

  16. Charles Cameron Says:

    I can see how a phrase like "system comes unglued" could be pretty forceful in a live presentation!  It’s a funny business, the difference between reading a transcript and hearing a speaker…

  17. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Humanity among Monsters: The Descent of Mexico Says:

    […] kindergarten teacher in Mexico seeks to protect her students and calm their fears as narco-cartel fighters conduct a raging gun battle outside the window of her school. The woman has nerves of […]

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