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Monday, June 11, 20071181610600

Science and War, Conjectures and Refutations

One of the reasons I believe that John Robb's work is general unhelpful is that it too easily reaches for emotionally charged appeals. If Robb used more precise and objective in his writings, he could add a good deal to the vertical domain of sub-state conflict study.

To take a recent example, Mountainrunner's recent review of Brave New War was met with an odd attack on "the 'conference crowd' guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money-fantasy machine in Washington" (emphasis Robb's). This unfortunately set a pattern, as Mountainrunner's follow-up was met with this from Amendment Nine:

It seems the critique leveled against Robb is unfair and misplaced. I care more about that latter as fairness in critiquing works has never been a strong suit of mine. The criticism to date, if I can generalize, is thus: John Robb doesn't explain the motivation of his guerrillas, he doesn't go into what makes them tick, so therefore his theory of how to deal with them and where they are taking history is unhelpful. A few tastes of this here, here, and here.


So far, so good. AIX's Phoicon idenitifes a specific criticism he disagrees with, and cites sources relating to that disagrement. Immediately after this, though, he reaches for a simplistic and uninformed counter:

This is sad. An entire generation of Americans seems devoted to nothing but Freudian apologetics. Why do these "thinkers" care so much about the "motivations" of guerrilla warriors? Because Freud said thats important. And what Freud says is the Gospel truth, never mind the evidence to the contrary.

Its true! These neo-conservative, neo-liberal, grand world visionaries are so used to sucking off the milky tit of Freud and the thoroughly discredited academics who espouse Freud's doctrine in the quiet confines of literature departments across the US that they no longer realize Freud has infected all parts of their thought.

We care about the guerrilla's motivations less than we do Billy Budd's. Or is it more? I can't remember. You see my mommy didn't love me enough when I was a boy and so ever since then I've been attracted to the smell of ivory tower feces and a dog's ass.

Robb's writings (cannot speak for his book) are unconcerned with motivations because motivations are spiritual. They aren't really important in a historical context. What are important are the consequences of their actions.

What were the motivations for the US Civil War? The list goes on. I'm sure Sigmund would relate it all to the Lincoln's sexual attraction to negro males. Just as I'm sure Dan, Mountainrunner, and the rest of these "thinkers" would opine endlessly on the sexual aggression of suicide bombers, their orgasmic climax of climaxes, and their aspirations to make love to multiple virgins. But what of the consequences? What of the real world?


Phoicon asks "what of the real world," but his knowledge for how the real human world is studied is about a century out of date. Freud may live on in The Sopranos and pop wisdom everywhere, but real social sciences are based on matching independent variables to dependent variables. Real psychology, real political science, real study of society is based on explanations -- the conjectures and refutations without which science is impossible.

Sigmund Freud, like John Robb, does not make falsifiable predictions. Neither can be considered scientific, and it would require a great mind to retrofit their ideas into something that can be scientifically useful. Examples of real areas of potential research include Tom Barnett's theories as well as actual, instead of brave and new, studies of guerrillaism.

Ultimately, Phoicon's statement that "motivations are spiritual. They aren't really important in a historical context" is a plead to the God of Gaps.

To tie this all back to Robb: his "global guerrillas" do acts of great altruism (going out of their way to hollow out the state) while ignoring the rewards (money, power, ideology) that would accrue from becoming the state. So what is the motivation, if not these things? What knowledge is psychology missing that could explain these people?

Global guerrillas act as sub-state balance-of-power realists. Yet this political motivation has not been seen before. What has changed? I agree with Curtis that Robb would answer "technology," but that's just saying that the cost of capital has fallen vs. the cost of labor. So "technology" isn't an answer at all, because if it was then there should have been global guerrillas in the past... but global guerrilla forces that used more people.

20:10 Posted in John Robb, Science | Permalink | Comments (13) | Tags: phoicon

Comments

Cost of cost? Do you mean cost of capital?

Posted by: Steve French | Monday, June 11, 2007

Thanks! Fixed!

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"What has changed? I agree with Curtis that Robb would answer "technology," but that's just saying that the cost of capital has fallen vs. the cost of labor. So "technology" isn't an answer at all, because if it was then there should have been global guerrillas in the past... but global guerrilla forces that used more people."

I disagree. Technology doesn't just let us do old things easier, it lets us do new things that were previously impossible.

Posted by: a517dogg | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

a517d0gg,

In the domain of war, how so?

The horde burned Baghdad as truly as the atom burned Hiroshima.

Technology decrease the cost of capital relative to the cost of labor. That is, it increases the cost of labor relative to the cost of capital.

To put this in a global guerrilla context: cheaper capital means that few men can create real damage -- but pricier labor means that fewer of those men can be recruited.

Technology makes "new things... possible" if you mean it makes them possible to do with less workers. But little is new -- truly new -- under the sun.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

By WW2 standards, what has happened in Gagbad is small potatoes. It certainly isn't Hiroshima, and falls far short of Stalingrad, Manilla, Dresden, London, etc.

For a long time it's been possible to kill a large number of confined human beings by crashing an airplane into the structure in which they are confined.

These few men have antique technology.

Posted by: sonofsamphm1c | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"By WW2 standards, what has happened in Gagbad is small potatoes. It certainly isn't Hiroshima, and falls far short of Stalingrad, Manilla, Dresden, London, etc."

How are you figuring this? Percentage of the population killed? Percentage of industry destroyed? Percentage of a country killed?

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dan -

I don't follow the labor argument. Are you arguing that destructive technologies are not user-friendly, and thus the labor that uses them will be difficult to recruit for guerillas? Supposedly in 5-10 years, anyone with a lab and a Masters degree in biology will be able to synthesize a custom-designed virus. Technology is not only growing in destructive power, it is also growing in usability as well.

As for an example of technology allowing us to do new things, well, thermonuclear (and now biological) weapons gave us the ability to extinguish the human race. I suppose technically we had the ability to do that before if we all joined a comet cult or stabbed each other with spears, but I don't think the two situations are quite comparable.

Posted by: a517dogg | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Supposedly in 5-10 years, anyone with a lab and a Masters degree in biology will be able to synthesize a custom-designed virus. ..."


Same thing for anybody who lives on a globe that has nature.

Posted by: sonofsamphm1c | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

a517d0gg,

"Are you arguing that destructive technologies are not user-friendly, and thus the labor that uses them will be difficult to recruit for guerrillas?"

My criticism is deeper than this.

All technology does is allow employers to use less people but more capital for the same cost.

The global guerrillas [1] are real, they should exist in the past as well as the present. The only difference technology would make is that global guerrilla entrepreneurs would be using a more labor-intensive variant in the past and a more capital-intensive variant now.

If global guerrillism is real, there is not a "Brave New War" -- only a "Brave Cheaper-in-terms-of-capital-but-costlier-in-terms-of-labor War." That means we should be able to look to history for prevoius, labor-intensive global guerrilla wars. Where are they? Where do we see people acting like global guerrillas -- hollowing out states but not hurting them enough to provoke a total war which the guerrillas would surely lose, spreading chaos but not striving for their own state, weakening the current government but not providing a new one?

I see insurgents and anarchists in the past -- but where are the global guerrillas?

sonofsamphm1c,

You humorously raise a good point. If global guerrillas do emerge, they are likely to be swamped in the ecosystem of more self-interested actors. I addressed this in my look at the BGDN. [2]

[1] http://tdaxp.blogspirit.com/archive/2007/02/05/working-definition-of-global-guerrillas-try-2.html
[2] http://tdaxp.blogspirit.com/archive/2005/11/30/inside-the-black-gangster-disciple-nation-crack-cocaine-gang.html

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Phocion comes across as an arrogant twat.

If only he could be succinct in his writing rather than blathering on in a didactic manner. Which is ironic, because he's the exact opposite of the greek statesmen he bases his name on who was known for his brevity.

On top of that, who actually talks about Freud these days, apart from wacky critical theorists? Pretty much no one. He's created a straw man of Dan, Mountain Runner and others. I think he's created that straw man because he has no idea about what real psychology or cognitive science is. After all, he refers to motivations as "spiritual", perhaps his readings are narrowly into the oft-quoted motivational theories of Maslow and other humanist quacks (see how awesome it is to snap psychological concepts out of the air and create strawmans of someone?).

But I digress ... most importantly, I should take aim at his argument ... Phocion espouses a consequentialist view of war over motivations. Fair enough. I agree the consequentialist view is an important one. I also think the motivational view is important as well. Both are useful tools for war. Which may be Phocions problem as he states "I'm no military doctrinal theorist", therefore he cannot see the utility of both points of view.

I think that is the underlying theme here: A descriptivist versus prescriptivist view of war. Phocions view of Robbs work is more a descriptivist approach to war. He claims to be "living in the material world ... picking up dead bodies" but he fails to see the whole picture and is reacting to the consequences our enemies put forth by stating "Our motivations have less to do with psychotherapy, and more to do with revenge." His sole tool of studying the consequences of his enemies puts him in a slowed down OODA loop. Whilst Mountain Runner, Dan, Barnett and others are look for prescriptions i.e. how do we penetrate-isolate-subdue/subvert-reorient and reharmonize (PISRR) our enemies from a gap/core and conventional/unconventional point of view? Or better yet, lets use the enemies motivations to get inside their OODA to accomplish PISRR. As mountainrunner states "The need to understand the why is important too in the details of how." We need to understand the why of our enemies, and failed states, to get the details of how to beat them, or rebuild them.

There's also other problems. Phocions criteria for the primacy of the consequences of actions over motivations is whether or not they are important in a historical context. I see some problems in this.

For instance, how does Phocion measure consequences in historical global guerrilla (GG) context? What counts as GG effects in his historical view? Immediate ones? Or long term unforseen effects?

I've written enough. I haven't even glossed over the pros of the motivational view of war. It could even be said that two of the great theorists, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, and one of the great modern theorists, John Boyd, had motivation as one of important factors in waging war. Tzu with his subdueing and manipulation of enemy motivation before the fight. Clausewitz with war as a clash of wills. Finally, Boyd with the internal workings of orient section, and the implicit part, of the OODA loop. And that's just from a warfare perspective. I haven't touched psychology yet. Anyway. Cheers.

Posted by: Eek_the_cat | Friday, June 15, 2007

Eek_the_cat,

I agree.

I like your argument's cool style and your grasp of the facts.

Are you new to the tdaxp community? I don't recall your handle before...

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Friday, June 15, 2007

Dan, I've been a long time lurker/fan of your site. Just decided to start posting.

Posted by: Eek_the_cat | Friday, June 15, 2007

Eek_the_cat,

Excellent! Do you mind if I ask you how you found tdaxp?

I enjoy reading folks when they disagree with me, but disagreements are even more valuable: they tell me where I am being unclear or even (in rare cases) wrong (: -) ).

I look forward to the first time you disagree with me... I hope it's soon! :-)

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Sunday, June 17, 2007

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