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Archive for October, 2006

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006


Reader Dominic C. recommended taking a look at Complexity Digest and I agree -it’s good ! Much thanks, Dominic !

Sunday, October 29th, 2006


A number of worthy bloggers were kind enough to link to my post on super empowered individuals, comment or send in some thoughts via email which I would like to highlight. Much thanks to everyone who took the time to comment, your ideas sometimes send me off in new directions.


Dave at the Glittering Eye has Napoleonic commentary on super empowered individuals.

Dan of tdaxp launches a systempunkt on the concept of systempunkt.

John Robb is pleased.


From Dr. Von:

“This post is one of the natural extensions of what we have been discussing. I don’t think there is any doubt that it is inevitable. I suppose the ‘when’ depends on what system is perturbed/attacked. It will be done as our understanding of network theory and complexity advance; to have, say, an individual do tremendous damage, that person will need the means of mapping out and understanding the levels of connectivity inherent to the system, whether that system is social, electronic, environmental, industrial, etc. Even with a lack of understanding of the system’s multi-dimensional topology in whatever relevant phase space, I can imagine someone developing and using one of these newer adaptive genetic computer algorithms…this type of program can ‘learn’ as it crunches data, and can adapt itself to the system. It is along the lines of the programming being tried for intelligent robots, etc. That is probably the scariest scenario to me”

From Fabius Maximus of DNI:

“I’ll stake out an extreme position on this (there is a first time for everything). Not much time, so I’ll sketch out some thoughts on this, however incoherent and ill-supported.

1. I disagree with the foundation assumption of Robb’s, the instability that result from modern systems higher levels of dynamic interconnectivity. In general, modern systems are more — far more — stable than pre-networked systems.

There is a large body of expert discussion on this, in various fields. No room in the margin here to prove this (or even discuss with the depth it serves). In fact, no proof is possible, we’ll just have to see.

The accompanying disadvantage of modern systems is that, although they have greater stability and adaptability, they often fail catastrophically — instead of degrading gracefully (service declines, or fails locally).

Also — as you note — we are working to make our essential systems more resilient. Including the human element. Note the boom in first aid and disaster prep courses and organizations.

2. American culture has possibly lost its balance between the needs/focus on the individual and the group. Note the focus in comic books and movies on individual action — as opposed to groups. X-files shows this taken to the logical extreme, the isolated individual — who is of course powerless.

The overemphasis on the individual actor is a snare, a significant but delusional belief resulting from overdevelopment of one aspect of American culture — built on a false assumption.

Strength, the ability to create the future (the past and present being, of course, frozen), come from groups.

There are two concepts here. Leaders of deep and wide movements — like the NAZI party are distinct from individual actors — like the mythical super scientist who saves the world, ie. Archimedes and the mirrors.

The first are important. But would the movements occur without the leader? This is the great man of history debate.

The second is in my opinion a topic most suitable for fiction. Individuals can destroy dozens, hundreds, thousands — perhaps millions … but nothing of significance from a historical perspective. “

From T.M. 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.”

From Lexington Green:

“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.”

From Shloky:

“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.”

From Eddie:

“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.”

From 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”

As per the question raised by Curtis, I think Gates certainly commands the resources required to effect super empowered strategems. Soros has definitely tried to do so, in a number of countries, including in the last U.S. presidential election, but he has not acheived very much in proportion to his expenditures, perhaps because he is not flying below the radar. Oprah – well, I know a little bit about her through an acquaintance who was once very high up at Harpo – let’s say I don’t see her succeeding on any issues outside of her natural comfort zone and audience which is basically apolitical, middle and upper-middle class, American boomer women. The potential is there however.

Sunday, October 29th, 2006


“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”

These systems need to become more resilient in the face of systemic attacks by incorporating redundancies, “circuit breakers” and the increased adaptive capacity and automated reactivity that DeAngelis terms “Development in a Box“.

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.

Our operative question is going to be how shall it be used and for what end ?


Dave at the Glittering Eye has Napoleonic commentary on super empowered individuals


Prologue: The Super-Story” by Thomas L. Friedman

System Perturbation: Conflict in the Age of Globalization“-Thomas P. M. Barnett and Bradd C. Hayes

The American Way of War” –Arthur K. Cebrowski and Thomas P.M. Barnett

Letters to the Editor, Proceedings, March 2003, pp. 24-25.” – Brigadier General Michael Vane, U.S. Army, Deputy Chief of Staff

“Deleted Scenes”Thomas P.M. Barnett

My own personal 5GW Dream” –Thomas P.M. Barnett


5GW Revolutions” – Zenpundit



The Open Source War” – John Robb

Catastrophic Black Swans” –John Robb

THE CHANGING FACE OF WAR: Into the 5th Generation (5GW)” – John Robb

Failure of Net-Centric Policing (Super-Empowered Locals or Super-Empowered Courts)” Dan Abbott

Go Deep (OODA and the Rainbow of Generational Warfare) – Dan Abbott

Dreaming 5th Generation WarDan Abbott

5GW and Beyond” –Shloky

Barnett and Robb” – Curtis Gale Weeks

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)

Friday, October 27th, 2006


An eclectic bunch. Varied but exceptionally good:

Dave at Thoughts Illustrated – “The Atomizing Hand” and “The Economics of Media 2.0

The Drs. Eide at their Neurolearning Blog – “Link to Visual Processing PPT

Dr. David Friedman at Ideas -“The Economics of Status

Dan of tdaxp – “Genetics and Warfare in the Age of Non-State Actors?” ( Take away the question mark and you have a killer title. I also recommend that you check out Dan’s Learning Evolved series)

Critt has given Conversationbase a major overhaul and launched Project Honduras News.

Col. Austin Bay had a fantastic article up at Strategy Page. (Hat tip Tom )

The late Colonel John Boyd at DNI – his classic ” Aerial Attack Study

Eddie at Live From the FDNF – “Licensed To Kill Review

That’s it !

Thursday, October 26th, 2006


This is definitely the “Blogger” of wiki-ing but it is going to be a useful tool ( much like Zenpundit himself).

Go ahead and laugh Critt, Sean, Dan…I do not need to be Picasso to hold a paintbrush :o)

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