Friday, August 07, 2009

About those health care bill town halls

In the last week, members of Congress have gone back to their districts to hold town hall meetings about pending health care reform legislation, and have been surprised by vociferous opposition. Congressional members have characterized this opposition as "astroturfing." In addressing these ongoing protests or disruptions, Mickey Kaus puckishly asks: "If an 'astroturfing' campaign gets real people to show up at events stating their real views, isn't it ... community organizing?"

I think the answer is yes and no - these protests aren't wholly manufactured, but at the same time they are not community organizing in the traditional sense. They could be characterized as swarming. And reading them through the traditional grassroots/astroturf dichotomy is not productive because they are a different sort of organization.

To explain myself, let me start with a quote from Manuel Castells:
The second feature characterizing social movements in the network society is that they have to fill the gap left by the crisis of vertically integrated organizations inherited from the industrial era. Mass political parties, when and where they still exist, are empty shells, barely activated as electoral machines at regular intervals. Trade unions survive only by abandoning their traditional forms of organization, historically built as replicas of the rational bureaucracies characteristic of large corporations and state agencies. Formal civic associations, and their organizational conglomerates, are in full decline as forms of social engagement ... This is not to say that people do not organize and mobilize in defense of their interests or in the affirmation of their values. But loose coalitions, semi-spontaneous organizations, and ad hoc movements of the neo-anarchist brand substitute for permanent, structured, formal organizations. Emotional movements, often triggered by a media event, or by a major crisis, seem often to be more important sources of social change than the day-to-day routine of dutiful NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. The Internet becomes an essential medium of expression and organization for these kinds of manifestation, which coincide in a given time and space, make their impact through the media world, and act upon institutions and organizations (business, for instance) by the repercussions of their impact on public opinion. These are movements to seize the power of the mind, not state power. (Castells, The Internet Galaxy pp.140-141, my emphasis)
Castells doesn't use the example of the current protests, because he's writing not in 2009, but 2001. His paradigmatic example is that of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, a case that has been examined as a paradigmatic case of netwar. This case was characterized by
a vast coalition of extremely different, and even contradictory, interests and values, from the battalions of the American labor movement to the swarms of eco-pacifists, environmentalists, women's groups, and a myriad of alternative groups, including the pagan community. The activists of Direct Action Network provided the training and organizational skills for many protestors. But the movement was based on the exchange of information, on previous months of heated political debate on the Internet, that preceded the individual and collective decisions to go to Seattle and to try to block the meeting of what was perceived as an institution enforcing "globalization without representation." (Castells, The Internet Galaxy p.141, my emphasis)
Castells notes that these individuals and groups had a common tactical goal, but not a common ideological or strategic objective. Radicalized, violent elements such as anarchists marched alongside those with far less radical agendas. Readers of this blog may be reminded of John Robb's Brave New War, in which he describes the insurgency in Iraq: loosely affiliated or unaffiliated groups, often with differing ideologies, can share information and resources and "coordinate their actions to swarm vulnerable targets" (Robb, Brave New War p.16). Like the Seattle protestors that Castells describes, these groups coordinate loosely over the Internet and mobile phones, as well as through media reports, which publicize their successes and therefore present a blueprint for further groups to construct their own disruptions.

Castells' protestors and Robb's insurgents sound a lot like the knowledge work organizations that Drucker describes in Post-Capitalist Society: loose, decentralized, flexible, always moving. That's not too surprising, since both Castells and Drucker claim that such organizations have begun to characterize our workplaces, our leisure, and our civic engagement. Information technology, particularly the Internet and mobile phones, has allowed people to create loose ties and connect with like-minded people outside their own communities. In fact, Castells does a good job of examining this shift in his earlier book The Power of Identity, in which he evenhandedly examines the black-helicopter crowd, the Zapatistas, and Aum Shinrikyo as examples of networked organizations enabled partially through information technologies. Castells confesses sympathy for the Zapatistas and unhappiness about the other two cases, but he emphasizes that the three work structurally similarly; they are manifestations of the same shift.

Fast forward a few years, and we see this sort of loose networked organization entering partisan US politics. A president, fresh from an electoral victory, proposes sweeping reform of an ailing sector but leaves the details up to Congress. Over a break, Congresspeople hold town meetings to sell the plan, but the meetings are swarmed by vocal citizens who are affiliated with partisan groups and coordinated via the Internet. Shocked, the Congresspeople attempt to lock down the town halls, then shut them down entirely, characterizing the citizens as centrally coordinated mobs. The year is 2005; the issue is Social Security reform; the President is President Bush; the bill is DOA.

Now, in 2009, some on the Right are bringing up these 2005 protests to suggest moral equivalence as they defend the health care protests. That's certainly not my aim; I'm not after evaluating either protest morally. I am rather arguing that such networked protests, as Howard Rheingold said about the tea parties, are "a hybrid of top-down and grassroots organization." They are an evolution of the netwar tactics that Castells describes, tactics that temporarily tie together groups with little ideological coherence in order to counter proposed change. In that sense, they are decentralized, reactionary and counterstrategic, even though some represented groups have longer-term strategic objectives. They're going to become more prevalent, I think, since we are encountering such structures in business and leisure as well. And they're going to continue changing form over time as people leverage more information technologies.

This year's technology is Internet video, which protesters have leveraged to self-report their protests. The Drudge Report had at least four links to such videos yesterday, and Instapundit, which has reported on continuing "tea parties" since they started, has more. The unexpected opposition has led some representatives to say things they probably regret:
"This bill is un-American,” said another voter, who asked whether Kratovil has read it.

“I am reading it right now,” he said.
Such statements feed the narrative that the bill is being rushed through without due diligence, the contingency that unites many of these otherwise ideologically incoherent citizens. As Kaus intimates, these people appear to be there of their own free will, and they don't appear to have signed onto a unified slate: Birthers, anti-immigration folks, Libertarians, fiscal conservatives, senior citizens worried about Medicare, Blue Dog Democrats, Reagan Republicans, etc. don't have a lot of ideological common ground, just as union representatives and anarchists didn't have a lot in common in Seattle. But for these point protests, they only needed a common tactical goal. They "just say no," because, like the WTO protestors, they are united in tactical opposition rather than strategic objectives. And they come into contact and network with those who have similar tactical goals through information technologies that also help them to rapidly coordinate. All these strands come together in yesterday's AP report on one event (my emphasis):

Some of the activists who've shown up at town hall meetings held recently by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wis., and others are affiliated with loosely connected right-leaning groups, including Conservatives for Patients' Rights and Americans for Prosperity, according to officials at those groups. Some of the activists say they came together during the "Tea Party" anti-big-government protests that happened earlier this year, and they've formed small groups and stayed in touch over e-mail, Facebook and in other ways.
But they insist they're part of a ground-level movement that represents real frustration with government spending and growth.
"There isn't any group that's backing me, who's influenced me, who's pushing me to do this," said Robert A. Mitchell, a small business owner from Doylestown, Pa., who questioned Specter at a weekend town hall event about lawmakers failing to read legislation.
Note that the Tea Party protests earlier this year, which were characterized as incoherent, were networking opportunities that allowed people to make initial connections. They were able to maintain these loose ties via Internet services, and could then deploy spontaneously.

The initial response of Congress and the White House was to portray these people as dupes, liars, and worse. Now, the White House is now urging Congresspeople to pack town halls with their own supporters, a tactic that will probably result in charges that Congress is astroturfing. The problem is that such tactics assume centralized control. If I'm right in applying Castells, Robb, Arquilla and Ronfeldt, and others, that assumption is incorrect and such counterprotest measures will backfire. In fact, they will likely give protestors more common ground - protestors who are undoubtedly exchanging phone numbers and email addresses at these meetups.

So let's go back to Kaus' question. "If an 'astroturfing' campaign gets real people to show up at events stating their real views, isn't it ... community organizing?" I said the answer was yes and no. Yes in that these people are genuine citizens, genuinely concerned for a number of ideological reasons, perhaps most of which are not commonly held. No, because these are not communities in the traditional sense of the term, nor is this organizing in the traditional sense. In that sense, they are very similar to the knowledge workers I've been studying in Austin, independent actors who come together in federations, swarm a problem, then disperse at the end of the project, only to come together in different combinations for subsequent problems.

I'll end by stating again that in examining this development, I am not taking a side - even if there were a side to take. Protesters - of the WTO, of Social Security reform, of health care reform, etc. - don't necessarily have a coherent side, any more than federations of knowledge workers do. In describing this tactical development, I'm not endorsing any of these groups, any more than I would be endorsing Nazi Germany by analyzing the Blitzkrieg.

In fact, I worry considerably about the transition period as netwar-style protests become more frequent and more broadly deployed. At present they are disruptive, reactive, and tactical, and I don't see hope for more ideologically coherent or lasting movements based on them. Since it's easier to protest what is than to build what isn't, in the short term these protests are more likely to encourage gridlock and inaction than they are to move us toward productive development. The White House has increased this danger by handling opposition through central coordination, even setting up a centralized clearinghouse for reporting rumors about health care (like a trouble ticket system), rather than by pushing discretion to the level of individual Representatives in individual Congressional districts; they have centralized rather than decentralized, creating a single point of tactical failure for swarms of loosely affiliated agents to exploit. Just like the town hall meetings of 2005 and 2009.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Reading :: Post-Capitalist Society

Post-Capitalist Society
By Peter F. Drucker

When I blogged Drucker's The Concept of the Corporation recently, David Ronfeldt commented that his favorite book was Post-Capitalist Society. So I picked it up on my next library run. It was riveting. Written nearly 50 years after The Concept of the Corporation, this book looks back on everything that had happened since - starting with the GI Bill of Rights, which Drucker says "signaled the shift to the knowledge society" (p.3). In this new society, the nation-state is only one, not the only unit of political integration (p.4) (cf. Castells). And the knowledge society is post-capitalist - not Marxist, as so many had assumed (p.4), but not capitalist either. The decisive factor of production is not capital, not land, not labor, but knowledge (p.6). And in this post-capitalist society, traditional work has shrunk to only a sixth or an eighth of the workforce; "the classes of the post-capitalist society are knowledge workers and service workers" (p.6).

Drucker's argument here is interesting and in some places quite daring, and frankly, reading it just before Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class made the latter book look thin and pedestrian. Drucker argues strongly that knowledge is now, and will be, the basic economic resource; value is created via productivity and innovation. The leading social groups will be knowledge workers, "who know how to allocate knowledge to productive use," and "practically all of these knowledge people will be employed in organizations" (p.8). So "the economic challenge of the post-capitalist society will therefore be the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker" but "the social challenge of the post-capitalist society will, however, be the dignity of the second class in post-capitalist society: the service workers" (p.8). Service workers will constitute a majority, he says, but will lag because they will have trouble increasing their productivity.

Drucker argues further that post-capitalist polity will involve nation-states networking with internal, external, and transnational entities; they will continue to be powerful players, but they will no longer be the only players (p.11).

Let's get back to the transition from capitalism to the knowledge society. Drucker argues that knowledge went from being a private to a public good almost overnight. Up to the 1700s, abstract knowledge was distinguished from techne, or skill - which, divorced from general principles, could only be learned via apprenticeship (p.27). But around 1700, knowledge became a public good, described by what until then could have been considered an oxymoron: technology, techne + logy, skill + organized, purposeful knowledge (pp.27-28). and we get the Industrial Revolution, in which knowledge was applied to tools, processes, and products (p.19).

But soon - relatively speaking - knowledge was applied not just to tools, processes, and products, but also to work itself - yielding the Productivity Revolution (p.32), in which individuals became more productive. Drucker argues that until Taylor, no one thought that work could yield more except by working longer or harder (p.34). But under Taylorism, workers could become more productive by applying knowledge to their work. Drucker argues that Taylor has been grievously misquoted and that the majority of the benefits of Taylorism flowed to the workers (p.34). Taylor also argued that authority in the plant must be based on superior knowledge, not on ownership of the plant (p.36). Taylorism, Drucker argues, was what transformed unskilled sharecroppers into skilled shipbuilders in 60-90 days, enabling it to build a new fleet for World War II far, far faster than the Germans had anticipated (p.36).

Taylorism, of course, also led to the death of lifelong employment and the advent of lifelong learning (p.37). After WWII, Drucker argues, "Taylor-based training became the one truly effective engine of economic development" (p.37). And as people became more productive, they became middle class. "This explains the total failure of Marxism," Drucker says confidently (p.39).

At the same time, Taylor-based training and its yields in productivity have meant that fewer and fewer people are involved in "making or moving things": when Taylor began, 90% of workers did this sort of work, but "by 2010 they will form no more than one tenth" of the workforce (p.40). So "from now on, what matters is the productivity of non-manual workers. And that requires applying knowledge to knowledge" (p.40). This third transformation is called the Management Revolution. It involves "supplying knowledge to find out how existing knowledge can best be applied to produce results" (i.e., management), but "knowledge is now also being applied systematically and purposefully to define what new knowledge is needed, whether it is feasible, and what has to be done to make knowledge effective. It is being applied, in other words, to systematic innovation" (p.42).

So now we get to organizations. Organizations, Drucker argues, must weld together "knowledges" (or specializations of knowledge) into "a single, unified knowledge" (p.50). This is the reason for organization and its task, Drucker says (p.50). Organizations concentrate on a single task; diversification destroys performance capacity (p.53). "Organization is a tool. As with any tool, the more specialized its given task, the greater its performance capacity" (p.53). Yet "results in an organization are always pretty far away from what each member contributes" (p.55). So, to ensure that people understand how their work contributes to the organization, an organization's "task and mission [must] be crystal clear. Results need to be defined clearly and unambiguously - and, if at all possible, measurably" (p.55). Indeed, that's vital, since in knowledge work organizations, the critical competition is for "its most essential resource: qualified, knowledgeable, dedicated people" (p.56). And given that resource, management's "job in the knowledge organization is not to command: it is to direct" (p.57).

Unlike older institutions,
the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work - on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself - it must be organized for constant change. It must be organized for innovation ... It must be organized for systematic abandonment of the established, the customary, the familiar, the comfortable - whether products, services, and processes, human and social relationships, skills, or organizations themselves. It is the very nature of knowledge that it changes fast and that today's certainties will be tomorrow's uncertainties. (p.57).
So "every organization of today has to build into its very structure the management of change" (p.59). That includes "organized abandonment of everything it does"; "the ability to create the new" (p.59); the ability to exploit its own successes by developing new applications (p.60).

Drucker adds that "post-capitalist society has to be decentralized. Its organizations must be able to make fast decisions, based on closeness to performance, closeness to the market, closeness to technology, closeness to the changes in society, environment, and demographics, all of which must be seen and utilized as opportunities for innovation." And he continues: "Organizations in the post-capitalist society thus constantly upset, disorganize, and destabilize the community" (p.60).

Drucker believes in the organization: "Knowledge workers can work only because there is an organization for them to work in. In that respect, they are dependent. But at the same time, they own the 'means of production,' that is, their knowledge" (p.64). Whereas workers own the means of production, "Somebody else, the organization, has the tools of production" (p.66).

Enough about organization; Drucker moves to labor and capital. He's frustrated that while Japan and the US were both seeing manufacturing gains and manufacturing job losses, the US interpreted this change as a bad thing - the US saw manufacturing jobs as an asset, while in Japan they were seen as a liability. Productivity is the proper measure, Drucker argues (p.70). (Imagine what his reaction to the recent GM and Chrysler bankruptcies would be.) Capital is another matter; he argues that the only real capitalists left are those who manage the vast pension funds - and he foresees our current situation, warning that "no safeguards at all exist against the most serious danger: the looting for political purposes of the pension funds of government employees" (p.75). That danger is critical because of the lengthening of life expectancy (p.76)

On to productivity of knowledge work. Drucker argues that the productivity of knowledge and service work is critical, but it may actually be going down rather than up (p.83). So how to improve it? Drucker argues that teamwork has to be reorganized to better address the type of work it accomplishes: for repetitive tasks with well-known rules, it should resemble baseball - just as modern mass production did (p.87). For crisis teams, the work should be orchestrated and rehearsed, but flexible enough to address contingencies, like soccer. And for a well-calibrated team that faces unpredictable challenges, the team should be small (7-9 people, max), with preferred rather than fixed positions and fluid adjustment to each others' weaknesses, like a tennis doubles team (pp.87-88). Drucker states that although "most work in large American companies was organized on the baseball team model," information technologies are aiding the development of the other two models (p.89).

Drucker argues here that "Workers must be required to take responsibility for their own productivity, and to exercise control over it" (p.92). (I immediately thought of GTD here.) And "productivity in knowledge work and service work demands that we build continuous learning into the job and into the organization"; he advocates that people learn by teaching others how to do their jobs (p.92).

In chapter 5, Drucker argues that organizations must be responsibility-based (p.97). Information has transformed organizations, and in knowledge work, the organization in increasingly composed of "specialists, each of which knows more about his or her own specialty than anybody else in the organization." In such organizations, superiors may not know the jobs of their subordinates; they can't "appraise what the specialist actually contributes" (p.107). So management must shift from command to information; all members of the organization must "take responsibility for that organization's objectives, contribution, and, indeed, for its behavior as well" (p.108). Subordinates give way to associates (p.108).

Drucker moves on in Chapter 6 to the "Megastate," where he argues that we have reached "the age of the post-sovereign state" (p.113). I'll skip this chapter except to say that Drucker's not a fan of the megastate, the heavy-spending, heavy-taxing state that provides an increasing number of services and takes on an increasing amount of debt. Its one success, he says, has been to avoid World War III (p.140). Indeed, as he argues in Chapter 7, the sovereign nation-state is threatened by internationalism, regionalism, and increasingly within its borders by tribalism (p.152). What we need, he says, is a third sector between [correction 2009.08.04: David Ronfeldt suggests in the comments that the correct expression is not "between" but "alongside and in addition to"] the public sector of government and the private sector of enterprise: the social sector. The megastate, he says, has all but destroyed citizenship; a social sector could revive it (p.171). He sees hope for a social sector in the large number of volunteers searching for community (p.176) and the many opportunities for growing leaders in churches and nonprofits (p.177).

Okay, let's wrap it up. I have more sticky notes, but you get the gist of this very long review. The book reads the way you might expect: a senior scholar (84 at the time) reflects back over the many decades of his work and draws lessons. He doesn't get much into citations or spend much time reflecting on his opposition; he's more interested in getting out his broad vision of what has happened and what he believes needs to happen. For those reasons, I imagine that reading Drucker will rub some people the wrong way. But I found the book to be exciting, even though I don't agree with all of it (and will probably argue against some points in a later article). This is smart work, showing an innovative point of view, proposing some startling solutions. I don't expect Drucker's policy recommendations to be folded into either political party's platform anytime soon, and perhaps for that reason, I can enjoy reading about them.

All in all, definitely a book to pick up.

Reading :: The Shield and the Cloak

The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons
By Gary Hart

The Shield and the Cloak was cited in Arquilla's Worst Enemy, which I recently reviewed, and I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy. Like Worst Enemy, this book, written by longtime Democratic senator and onetime Presidential candidate Gary Hart, focuses on how we might go about achieving security in the 21st century. And it provided an interesting contrast with Robb's Brave New War, which I had just finished reading when I picked up Hart's book. So I was initially very optimistic about this book.

Hart argues that there are two kinds of security: the shield and the cloak. In the past we have focused on the shield: "The narrow definition of security is the prevention of physical harm by creating a protective shield" (p.17). But, he says, we also need to provide the cloak: "The broader definition of security includes the opportunity for a stable livelihood, the chance to be productive, the comfort of community in a healthy environment, and confidence in the integrity of government - all representing a cloak of protection. Genuine security requires a cloak of economic security, environmental security, health security, energy security, and educational security" (p.17).

Hart continues:
To a degree, the difference in these definitions flows from a difference in outlook on life. If one believes that life is dangerous, that each of us is pretty much alone, that each must make his own way, that our moral duty is to ourselves alone, and that the government's job is to protect us and otherwise leave us alone, then the leaner definition of security as a shield will probably suffice.

If however, one senses that we are all members of a community, that we have a responsibility to look out for each other, that we are all in this together, and that our moral duty is to help to create a general sense of well-being, then one is necessarily drawn to the richer definition of security as a cloak and collective obligation. From the difference in these philosophical dispositions flows political parties and, ultimately, national policies. (pp.17-18, my emphasis)
Yes, go ahead and read it again. Hart has sketched out a Manichean understanding of security, built on a similarly Manichean reading of the US' political parties, essentially claiming that Republicans are by philosophy extreme Libertarians or Objectivists, while Democrats are people who genuinely care for other people. It's an extremely unrealistic depiction of the parties. It assumes a degree of party unity that is simply not present in either party. It assumes that community-building is either a governmental function or no function at all - something that is hinted at in this quote and clarified in the remainder of the text, and that ignores how people in both parties have worked with nongovernmental social sector institutions. It's an unnecessarily partisan text, and Hart's political enemies are made to seem dull, venal, and wrongheaded throughout.

Those enemies are not just on the Right: Hart grumbles that Pres. Clinton did not act on his idea to "appoint a commission of elders to consider where America was to go following the end of the Cold War" (p.35), but did eventually act on Newt Gingrich's "similar, but considerably more limited, version of the same idea" (p.36). The way Hart tells it, if people had just listened to him earlier, things would be much better: indeed, he even claims that had he been elected President in 1988, the Cold War would have ended sooner (p.35).

But, frankly, his analysis does not inspire confidence in me. Hart sees some of the same threats that Robb sees: fourth-generation warfare, private security companies, the loss of the state's ability to extend protection and a safety net. But whereas Robb was willing to go out on a limb with radically decentralized solutions, Hart's impulse is to double down: centralize Homeland Security, extend the social safety net further, increase governmental services, eliminate hunger worldwide, increase economic interdependence between states. These measures must be paid through the US' boundless funds and political will, Hart argues (an argument that probably sounded more plausible in 2006 than it does today). Hart's doubling down on the centralized benevolence of the state leaves the state open, in Robb's analysis, to the inevitable weakening of the state's legitimacy through systematic disruption - and Hart, unfortunately, does not articulate any legitimate countermeasure to such disruptions. In short, Hart's argument is (small-c) conservative, repackaging Great Society solutions to counter an emergent threat for which they were not designed.

Hart ends the book by arguing that "When every child in America is secure, then America will be secure" (p.180) - a bait-and-switch, since the two securities he describes are of different categories. From my view, Hart has simply failed to grapple with the question of fourth-generation warfare, and his conclusions constitute a faulty causal argument. I don't recommend this book.

Reading :: Brave New War

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
By John Robb

I've been reading several books on warfare and terrorism lately because I'm interested in the network organizational structure used by some terrorist organizations and advocated for components of our own military. Networks, as I've noted in other reviews, are also being adopted in knowledge work (my current focus), and looking at conflict as a parallel case helps me to think through implications for knowledge work. And vice versa - as John Robb demonstrates in his book Brave New War, which characterizes the organizational structure of the Iraqi insurgency as "an open-source community network" (p.4). Brave New War lays out, lucidly and in terms that the general readership can understand, what such organizational changes mean to the future of security, focusing primarily on the Iraqi insurgency up to the publication date (2007). Although it's repetitive at times, and although it doesn't predict the post-Surge (relative) calm in Iraq, this book does a great job laying out the changes in the security landscape and their implications for national security.

In a nutshell, Robb argues that "we have entered the age of the faceless, agile enemy" (p.3). Our military is still tuned to fight state-to-state wars (p.7), but our most next-generation enemies are now stateless, without a recognized center of gravity, and thus nearly immune to conventional military force (p.4). Such enemies have organized in innovative and agile ways that promote much faster decision-making cycles and much more distributed decision-making, similar to software companies (p.4). And rather than turning to conventional weapons and targets, they turn to
systems disruption, a simple way of attacking the critical networks (electricity, oil, gas, water, communications, and transportation) that underpin modern life. Such disruptions are designed to erode the target state's legitimacy, to drive it to failure by keeping it from providing the services it must deliver in order to command the allegiance of its citizens (p.5)
He predicts "the rise of global virtual states" that "will rapidly undermine confidence in our national-security systems" (p.6). New conflicts, he says, will be substate, fought by "superempowered groups" who can leverage technological advances and pinpoint systemic weaknesses of states (p.8).

In subsequent chapters, Robb details how such groups work. He argues that this new method of warfare focuses on delegitimizing the state, leading to weakened or failed states, by "derail[ing] the key drivers of economic globalization: the flow of resources, investment, people, and security" (p.14). Such groups look for high return on investment for their attacks. Such "global guerillas have atomized into loose, decentralized networks that are more robust and learn more quickly than traditional hierarchies" (p.15). These networks form a "bazaar of violence" (p.15) in which loosely affiliated or unaffiliated groups, often with differing ideologies, can share information and resources and "coordinate their actions to swarm vulnerable targets" (p.16). Such networks want failed states (p.17): the feudal vision of the Caliphate is "the hollowing out and failure of the nation-state" (p.18). Again, he points to the Iraqi insurgency, in which Baathists, al-Qaeda, and criminals all wanted a weakened state for their own purposes (p.18).

Such networks are vanishingly small. Of course, the apparatus of the state is also vanishingly small, although it claims the entire territory. "This new organization," Robb warns, "once established, is now in competition with the states as an equal and not as a successor" (p.21). And it is at an advantage in that no one expects such networks to provide services, stability, or protection in the same way that a state does.

Most of the United States' recent "wars," Robb points out, were actually interventions in failed states: Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo (p.26). Indeed, conventional warfare has been almost eliminated due to Mutually Assured Destruction on one hand and global economic and social integration on the other (p.25). Under these pressures, as the Cold War wound down, proxy guerilla war became the primary means of wars between states (p.27). Such fourth-generation warfare (4GW) "was seen as a way to waste the strength of the strong - to bleed the target state dry morally and economically. The result is an eternal war that typically ends with the target state's inevitable defeat" (p.27). 4GW turns states' strengths into weaknesses (p.28). And the latest development has been that "guerilla and terrorist movements, which were once the proxy puppets of nation-states, became autonomous" (p.30).

Here we return to Iraq, the centerpiece of Robb's argument. After the Gulf War, Robb argues, Saddam Hussein knew that Iraq could not win a conventional war with the US. So his planning team decided to plan a 4GW, establishing the irregular Feyadeen Saddam in 1995, stashing weapons in the countryside, and selecting an urban swarming strategy that focused on systemic disruptions (something they learned from the pinpoint infrastructure bombing carried out during the Gulf War) (p.44). When Gulf War II started, the forces simply melted away and began their 4GW: a 4GW that grew to include hundreds of small groups (p.73) that "range from a small family group to large ideologically motivated groups measuring in the thousands" (p.74). The groups are united by a common enemy and more or less by tactical approaches, but not by a common strategic objective.

In this emerging landscape, Robb argues, the state is stretched to the breaking point - not just the US, but also China, where rapid economic growth has outstripped the government's ability to control it (p.86). In such conditions, paramilitary forces and ad hoc militias develop; Robb points to China here (p.86), but also mentions the proliferation of SWAT teams and the rise of the Minutemen in the US (p.87). He expects private military companies to gain ground (p.91).

Robb turns to the analogy of open-source warfare, arguing that in OSW, a spectacular attack functions as an alpha release. Other networks can take the basic architecture of the attack, tweak it, fork it, and release their own versions (p.116). The promise of the attack draws people with differing motives but the same objective, the attack (p.116). In such an environment, coordination consists not of centrally directed activity, but of stigmergy:
Stigmergic systems use simple environmental systems to coordinate the actions of independent agents (each with their own decision-making process). These signals are used to coordinate scalable, robust, and dynamic activity. This activity is usually much more intelligent than the actions capable by the individual actors ... (p.124)
Based on the analysis above, Robb argues that we must turn away from solutions that rely on the nation-state as the primary actor (p.162). Security, he argues, must be affordable, efficiently allocated, broad-based and participatory; the state cannot deliver this sort of security well in the face of 4GW, he says (p.163). Instead, he says, "the only way to ensure security in the future will be through survival and decentralized resilience" (p.164). Let's rethink the state, he says, transitioning from a nation-state to a market-state (p.165); that would entail moving the legitimacy of the state from a provider of its people's welfare to "maximal 'opportunity' through the use of market mechanisms" (p.166). (To some, I note here, this might sound like destroying the state in order to save it.)

Since I've been reading a lot of this literature lately, Brave New War doesn't seem as fresh or radical as it might to many. But it's a well written book, lucid, smart even when it goes where few will want to follow. As I said earlier, it's a bit repetitive and perhaps a bit alarmist. But it is such a daring book that transcends these weaknesses, and it made me think about things differently even when I disagreed with it. Especially if you haven't read about netwar before, take a look at this book.