Memetics and Individualism

Marked for some future blogs:

David Brooks at NYT:

“I repeat these personal facts because we have a tendency to see history as driven by deep historical forces. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it is driven by completely inexplicable individuals, who combine qualities you would think could never go together, who lead in ways that violate every rule of leadership, who are able to perpetrate enormous evils even though they themselves seem completely pathetic. Analysts spend their lives trying to anticipate future threats and understand underlying forces. But nobody could have possibly anticipated Bin Laden’s life and the giant effect it would have. The whole episode makes you despair about making predictions.”

I would also recommend that you read Daniel Byman’s article on a great-man centric theory of political science in concert with this.

Lucien Gauthier’s response to my post:

Except for on the fact that emotions are not “policies, strategies, or tactics” is why taking up arms can exist as a profession, and why there is a difference between a mob and professionals-at-arms. As Adam mentions, conflict does not exist out of a primordial hate. Nor does it end because of a sudden emotional realization that there is some ‘better way’. There is a spectrum to conflict, the same hatred that can be felt for a mortal enemy is the same hate felt for the Shipmate who cut you off on 264 going into NOB. Both forms of hatred are dismissed through the same cognitive process as well — though the means through that process differ significantly. At one extreme only the acknowledgment of the emotion is necessary for it to quickly dissipate. On the other, is the application of violence by professionals. This is to say that despite the irrationality of emotion, there is a rational and deliberative process that ends conflict. That objectivity defines modern conflict resolution (note: There was VERY little that I interpreted happening to me objectively while I was downrange. Afterwards, in getting home, my objectivity returned to me). By looking at conflict objectively we have come to better understand the causes of conflict and have attempted to address our understanding of the causes through organizational constructs (NATO, UN, IMF, WTO — deliberative bodies) as well as methodical approaches (COIN, CT — tactics). But, in assuming the causes of conflict only as a function of emotion we remove any hope of conflict prevention. It is ironic that the sentiment expressed in the fake quote are actually an affirmation that violence and conflict are unavoidable and that humans are incapable of being disciplined enough to rise above their emotions.

I’ve bolded the parts of this that I think point to a better way forward.


Defense Blog Networks

Crispin Burke points out that the structure of defense blogging is evolving:

Contrary to what Tom Ricks laments (and Automatic Ballpoint echoes), I don’t think that milblogs are waning, per se. Sure, total posts have slowed down, but many milbloggers are turning to Twitter for day-to-day interaction, link sharing, and up-to-date coverage of fast-moving events, such as last year’s “Rolling Stan” incident, or the recent demonstrations throughout the Middle East. And while Twitter seems to have supplanted the shorter posts, many milbloggers have turned to guest-posting in larger publications.

There’s another dynamic at work here too. The defense/foreign policy blogosphere, in contrast to the larger political blogosphere has always been tiny. Even the most popular defense blogs get a fraction of the hits that domestic political blogs do, because defense and foreign policy issues—always issues of narrow interest–are often discussed in a (comparatively) nuanced and dense style that requires some knowledge and/or experience to understand and critique.

Thus, it isn’t surprising that a lot of conversation is less directed necessarily towards blog readers and more among blog writers and interested academics and practitioners who often comment on blog posts. Much of this conversation occurs in forums such as Twitter and Facebook rather than blogging itself. Some of the most spectacular blog disputes of the last year or so are incomprehensible without doing forensic analyses of Twitter exchanges.

To make an analogy that Alex Olesker of i-Con might appreciate, reading defense blogs without Twitter is like trying to pay attention to the rap game while completely ignoring the mixtape circuit.

Network-Centric Warfare…..and Pandas

I am late to the party that Crispin Burke has started again, but I have a valid excuse–looking for sponsors for the good Captain’s Balling out of Control Center of Excellence. Now that JFCOM is closing, we might have to consult a NATO partner and two former adversaries for assistance. We might even get the Israelis and the Chinese on board, and finally end the Korean war while we’re at it. In any event, when in doubt consult Silvio Berlusconi for the importance of Balling Out of Control for a nation’s national security.

But I digress. Burke and a heavily armed panda have teamed up to dump on an attempt by a man best known for Bat Nipples to single-handedly revive the “vulgar” version of Network-Centric Warfare (NCW)’s hubristic view that C4ISR will lead to decisive political-military dominance. Only this time, it is expected to work as a means of monitoring the border between North Sudan and the emerging South Sudanese state.

Conflict Early Warning and Response is a growing topic of importance, indeed there is an excellent blog by that very name. What emerges from reading the blogger’s survey of professional technical attempts and the scholarly literature is an extremely complex effort to integrate all kinds of technological and human sensors, historical and context-specific data, and develop methods for structuring analysis and creating effective systems for managing information.

Needless to say, such a process requires a lot more than satellites and volunteers.

Science Fiction and Strategy: Why It Sucks?

Andrew Liptak makes a provocative argument–military science fiction really, really sucks. And why?

Military SF novels aren’t about the institution of warfare; they focus on the effects of war, on the soldiers, on the morality of an organization, and on what humanity will do to survive. But warfare is much more than just its destructive effects: It is an institution with its own theories and reasoning. It represents significant strategic, economic and political events, all coming together in a destructive crescendo. When military science fiction focuses on people, there is very little about warfare, and how it is conducted. In these tales, futuristic warfare is often incredibly simplified, on both the storytelling level, as well as the actual elements that make up the story. Here are some of the biggest problems with representations of war in most military SF.

I have commented on some of the problems with a specific subgenre of this in io9 too. But the problem with Liptak’s argument is that there is a misunderstanding of what fiction should ideally focus on. As experienced by characters, it is true that fiction will mostly focus on effects, with an ultimately shallow outline of the technologies and strategies involved. That’s simply what fiction is. Some good science fiction does focus very much on the broader outline of the worlds involved, and I’ve blogged on them.

But the primary focus is the characters. A focus on the technologies, strategies, and tactics involved tends to amplify some of the worst tendencies of science fiction in general: a fascination with the technical details of machines or the outlines of future worlds rather than the people who populate them. There is an inherent tradeoff, and when in doubt, lean towards character. The contrast between the anime versions of Ghost in the Shell and the manga is instructive–the anime is much more about the characters whereas the manga is chock full of lovingly footnoted technical details.

Historical fiction, to some degree, has the kind of level of detail and thought that Liptak desires, but in large part only because the past has already been laid out for us. I don’t think there’s a strict either-or choice between character and detail, but at the same time a tradeoff certainly exists.

The End of the “End”

A lot of things come to an end. The enjoyable PF Changs Spicy Chicken I consumed on Saturday evening ended when there were no more pieces of chicken on my plate. Arnold Schwarzneggar’s epic campfest Commando ended when the last screaming junta soldier with an enormous mustache fell haplessly from a tree after being shot. Some people’s faith in true love ended when Marilyn Manson’s marriage to an equally weird Rose McGowan ended in acrimony. My own admiration for George Lucas ended by the time the eminently repulsive persona of Jar Jar Binks crawled across the screen. So it’s clear that many things and beliefs have a habit of coming to an end.

This basic fact of life has been perverted by the obsession that people have with declaring the “end” of a given trend, product, nation, or issue. Part of it is publicity–people want to be the first to declare an old trend over, which is just as important as finding a new trend. There was a remarkably cogent analysis of this tendency in either TechCrunch or Boing Boing, but I am having some trouble finding it in either of their archives (link will be put up later if I can find it).

The problem is this. It is relatively easy to tell when, say, a parrot is dead, despite what Monty Python has told you. After a certain point, it’s obvious that a nation is “dead”–like the Holy Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, or the curiously named country of Upper Volta. But since the future, as William Gibson teaches us, is “unevenly distributed,” it is difficult to really tell if a large-scale entity or process is really over. We should exercise caution in doing so. After all, where is my jetpack?