Saturday, July 23, 2005

War Story

**The following is based on real events, and conversations are repeated verbatim to the best of my memory. Fall 2003.

It was a cold day in the vault. It was always cold in the vault, even thought we were in the middle of the desert (Forgive me, I'm trying to win the Bulwer-Lytton Prize). The phone rang and I was summoned to see our squadron Commander. This was seriously interrupting my game of SnowCraft.

I walked upstairs and into his office. "You rang, sir?"

"Captain Vail... I just got off the phone with General Jones. It looks like we may have to deploy."

"Where to, sir?"

"Bali. Where is that?"

"It's in Indonesia, sir."

"I want you to prepare a country brief, threats, climate, basing possibilities, the usual."

"Did the general say why were are going?"

"Something about terrorists and Algeria."

"Is it possible that he meant Mali, sir? They share a border."

"Hmmm... well, just make preparations for both countries."

"Yes sir."


True story... SNAFU principle in action.

Farming Links

Excellent resources on all things Masanobu Fukuoka (e.g. The One Straw Revolution)

John Jeavons' "Grow Biointensive" website

Friday, July 22, 2005

Institutionalizing Rhizome: How Oral Traditions May Have Inhibited Hierarchy Formation

Warning: This article may contain references to concepts or theories rejected by orthodox archaeology. Those people who may be offended by such language should go back to reading The Economist.

Yesterday Julie (my wife) and I were discussing the pyramids, Mayan astrology, Graham Hancock and other such nonsense. Without getting too deep in the murky waters of cryptoarchaeology, we discussed a theory of some interest to the hierarchy vs. rhizome issue:

The importance of Oral Tradition in ancient cultures may have been an intentional attempt to inhibit the advance of hierarchy.

Viz., The prohibition against writing down the Rig Veda; the prevalence of oral tradition among Nordic people despite a fully functional runic alphabet (it was taboo...); the emphasis on the memorization and oral recitation of the Quran.

Runes were sacred because the power of such symbolic representation was understood. Presumably the Rig Veda was passed on for thousands of years exclusively orally because the dangers of writing it down were understood. What was the danger of writing it down? Was this an intentional attempt to prevent the social escalation in to hierarchy, agriculture and "civilization"? Certainly a culture capable of producing the Rig Veda was already quite civilized, by some definitions. Did they have a model of a previous, much older culture that had taken this path, and that they wanted to avoid?

The oral tradition model seems to be a rhizome-creating institution. Stories will drift, change and adopt, and the absense of a singular written record ensures that there is no one right way. There is no singular power center (Pope, Patriarch, High-Priest) because everyone has general access to the lore (the masses couldn't read, but they heard the stories told over and over).

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Odd Goings On...

What's with the weather lately? Is this global warming, an immenent "Day After Tomorrow" scenario, or just a case of hubris to think that the present is somehow unique from the past? Is this a case of "if you look hard enough for anything, you will find it"?

Well, in Denver it was 105 F yesterday, tying an all-time record for temperature at any time of year here.

The 2004 tornado season was the worst in recorded history.

Since 1861 there have been 4 category 3+ hurricanes in the Atlantic/Carribean in July. 2 of those (including the strongest ever in July, Emily) were this year.

Surface temperature of the North Atlantic is the highest in recorded history right now.

And now this, from meteorologist Steve Gregory of Weather Underground (no, not that Weather Underground):

"There are 2 areas of increasing convection this morning, one over the SE Bahamas, and one in the south Central Caribbean. I touched upon these yesterday within the comment section of one of my blogs. These now 2 separate systems actually were all part of one tropical wave that had reached the central Caribbean about 3 days ago. While not unsual to have 2 tropical cyclones going at the same times, to have 2 develop in tandem, this close tongether in this part of the Atlantic basin would be a first."

Odd goings on, indeed...

Rhizome: Guerrilla Media, Swarming and Asymmetric Politics in the 21st Century

Philosopher Philip Bobbitt, in his seminal work “The Shield of Achilles”, proposed that the 20th century was defined by the ideological conflicts between socialism, fascism and capitalism. These competing ideologies purported to offer the hierarchal control structure most suited to meeting the needs of the people. In the course of this conflict, asymmetric warfare—the use of non-hierarchal structures to successfully confront hierarchy—was refined. The conflicts of the 20th century forged current theories of rhizome—the name for non-hierarchal, asymmetrical and networked patterns of organization. Empowered by a revolution in communication technology and the spread of democratic freedoms, the conflicts of the 21st century will be defined not by past political ideologies, but by a much more fundamental, structural conflict: hierarchy vs. rhizome.

Rhizome structures, swarming media and asymmetric politics will not be a means to support or improve a centralized, hierarchal democracy—they will be an alternative to it.

Many groups that seek change have yet to identify hierarchy itself as the root cause of their problem or cause, but are already beginning to realize that rhizome is the solution. Movements as diverse as American Progressives, al-Qa’ida and the “New Bolivarians” are already consciously adopting some rhizome elements to their actions. As theoretical knowledge and systems understanding improves, this conflict will become more clearly defined along the lines of hierarchy vs. rhizome.

Rhizome has a long history of application within military theory, but its use as a non-violent political tool is still rapidly developing. Rhizome tactics such as swarming have been used successfully at the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, and less successfully by protesters at the Republican National Convention in 2004 (link). A methodology of decentralized “leaderless resistance” first formalized by white supremacists is now being used with some success by the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. Rhizome tactics have found notable success in economics as well, with rural communities using localization policies, increasing distributed power generation, the spread of farmers’ markets and an increased focus on “slow food” and regional cuisine.

But despite recent successes, the value of rhizome structure and strategies continues to be constrained by a failure to frame conflicts in clear “hierarchy vs. rhizome” terms. Political activists seeking to use rhizome concepts to improve a hierarchal structure such as America’s hierarchal democracy will ultimately fail. Similarly, the protestors at the Republican National Convention were effectively controlled by police because they failed to identify their purpose—and frame their tactics—in terms of rhizome pattern and structure. The OODA Loop suggests that the victorious party is the one that can more quickly Observe lessons learned from past conflict, Orient themselves to identify their shortcomings in light of these lessons, Decide on a course of action to address identified shortcomings and then put those decisions into Action. The failure of the protestors at the RNC was largely their failure to evolve their doctrine as quickly as the NYPD was able to evolve theirs. It appears that neither side explicitly framed their efforts in terms of hierarchy vs. rhizome, but had the protesters done so they would have been better able to access the existing body of knowledge provided by the rhizome “Doctrine Network”, consisting itself of rhizomatic nodes such as and .

The Rhizome Toolkit: Blogs, Open Source Warfare & the Doctrine Network

Hierarchies exert command and control via a centralized, top-down process. This creates numerous layers that information must relay between, and results in an information processing burden that significantly slows the ability of hierarchy to execute the OODA loop (link). The advantage of rhizome—aside from preventing the abuse of power endemic to hierarchy—is its superior information processing capability. One rhizome example, the network of political blogs, demonstrated its information processing ability during the 2004 election season, regularly trumping hierarchal media establishments on breaking stories.

As global conflict is increasingly framed within the context of hierarchy vs. rhizome, the doctrine and tactics of rhizome action is beginning to coalesce into an effective system. This system, founded upon the information processing capability of rhizome, consists of infrastructure, distributed decision making and general doctrine.

The general doctrine of rhizome action, whether peaceful or violent, is based on the model of Open Source Warfare (Global Guerrillas link). Without the centralized command structure of hierarchy, actions and tactics are proposed by the network and adopted by constituent nodes via a process similar in many ways to a clinical trial. Some node devises a tactic or selects a target and makes this theory publicly available—Open Source. One or several trials of this theory are conducted, and the tactic is then adopted and improved upon by the network as a whole based on its success. This may seem like a contrived and overly mechanistic system, but in fact it functions very much like biological evolution.

Rhizome uses distributed decision making—the Doctrine Network—to evaluate, improve and adopt Open Source Warfare concepts. This distributed decision making is facilitated by some type of non-hierarchal communications infrastructure. Two examples will help to illustrate this process:

Al Qa’ida and the Rhizome Toolkit

Osama bin Laden and other “central” al-Qa’ida figures are increasingly removed from everyday operations and instead function as a node in the al-Qa’ida Doctrine Network. Bin Laden & crew propose targeting strategies, praise selected actions and generally contribute to the clinical trial of new strategies and procedures. They communicate with their network via largely Open Source methods—tapes sent to Arabic language satellite TV channels, jihadist websites, etc. Other groups such as that of Abu Musab al Zarqawi—in no way under hierarchal control from bin Laden—then take the Open Source Warfare outcomes from these clinical trials and put them into action. The train bombings in Madrid and subway bombings in London are an example of this process in action, as are the steadily improving tactics of insurgents in Iraq.

Progressive political bloggers in America, while markedly different in ideology from al-Qa’ida, function in a remarkably similar manner. The network of blogs serves as a Doctrine Network, function as a Clinical Trial for political criticism, and constitute an Open Source communication infrastructure all at the same time. One blogger writes a persuasive argument against President Bush, another improves or expands upon it and posts it to a heavily visited site, feedback and critiques further develop the argument until it is a fully sharpened weapon in the progressive’s Open Source Warfare arsenal.

While these examples illustrate that rhizome concepts are influencing political processes around the world, they largely fail to consciously recognize their rhizome system. Their true power—and the course of conflict in the 21st century—will be defined not simply when they realize that they must frame their struggle in terms of rhizome action, but when they realize that rhizome structure IS THEIR STRUGGLE. Widely disparate groups, from al-Qa’ida to American Progressives to ELF and South American indigenous peoples are ultimately struggling against hierarchy. Their individual movements have been grossly distorted and perverted by remnant ideologies, local and historical circumstances, but at their core they are in fact quite similar. If they are able to recognize their unity of purpose, or if they spawn a broader movement with such a unity of purpose, then this coherent rhizome pattern will spread and effectively check and reduce hierarchy. If they remain fragmented and separate they will still be capable of harassing the dominance of hierarchy, but will effect little real change.
While it may seem improbable for Progressives and al-Qa’ida to decide to join forces for the common good, it is certainly within the realm of possibility to expect the various factions within the broad Progressive movement to realize that their pet causes are all derived from a basic conflict with hierarchy, and that the solution lies in consciously adopting a rhizome structure. A conscious focus on rhizome organization will lead to improved functioning of the Doctrine Network, Clinical Trials and communications infrastructure. Individual bloggers will realize that their minor improvement or addition to another’s idea is critical to the functioning of the system. The divide between talk and action will diminish as a better understanding of the rhizome process will lead protestors and economic localizers to realize that they must blog, and bloggers to realize that they must protest and purchase wisely. The interconnectivity between anti-globalization, economic localization, human rights, freedoms, environmental concerns, and equal opportunity policies will become clear, and the combined power of each of these factions will, working together, be far greater than the sum of their parts. Perhaps most importantly, the logic of a unified effort will finally be able to convince the average person that they, too, have a self-interested stake in this struggle, and that they must act on the side of rhizome. A conscious and unified rhizome movement would be powerful indeed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

On Violence

Some of you may remember the controversy that emerged around University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill in January of this year. As a resident of Colorado, I found the coverage deafening at times, primarily due to the overwhelming outcry by a largely uninformed and reactionary media. How could a publicly salaried professor call the victims of 9/11 "little Eichmans" and get away with it??? Outrage!

Well, I've given this piece the necessary cooling-off period. And now the recent attacks in London bring the salient issue right back to the surface...


What justifies the use of violence? There's a loaded question! Nothing? Self-Defense? Self-Interest? Those three options define the spectrum of possible justifications for violence. Unfortunately there is a small continent of gray area between and among the three.

There is room here for a lengthy philosophical debate, but I will leave that to someone more qualified than me. Think of these options as evolutionary strategies, perpetually repeating phenotypes of the fundamental "genetics" of our universe. Suggesting that "nothing" justifies violence is a fatal expression of our nature--it's like a baby born without an immune system. It will only survive (as a party capable of free expression) as long as it does not contact a party that has selected the "self-interest" justification of violence. Despite its ongoing spiritual attractiveness, and its potential educational value, non-violence as an implementable strategy is an (ongoing) evolutionary failure. 99.99% of humanity could be staunchly non-violent, but the reality is that violence will always emerge in part of the population. The larger the proportion of non-violent actors, the easier it will be for a few "self-interested" violent actors to create a truly nightmarish world.

This leaves us with the very fuzzy gray-area between "self-defense" and "self-interest". Self-defense is, after all, a self-interested action. Perhaps it is best to characterize these two options in terms of Hierarchy vs. Rhizome. A system accepting the justification of violence based on selfish interest will create a system of competing hierarchies, intensifying, competing over scarce resources and destroying and absorbing weaker systems. Assuming selfish interest extends temporally (e.g. "my interests are more important than those of my grandchildren"), then such a system is also fundamentally non-sustainable in any system governed by finite resources.

In the end, it is actually the logic of hierarchy, not its component logic of "self-interest" that defines such systems. This is important, because this distinction will help to eliminate the gray area between "self-defense" and "self-interest". Unfortunately, it is impossible to adequately separate "self-defense" from "self-interest" as long as we insist on using those terms. Let's throw out our remaining competitors entirely--"self-interest" and "self-defense"--and instead view the justification of violence through the lens of Hierarchy and Rhizome. If hierarchy produces a non-sustainable use of violence, then we are left with rhizome as a justification for violence. Violence within the context of rhizome does not seek to eliminate the competition, does not seek to dominate, does not seek to expand. Rhizome violence represents a negative feedback loop, it seeks to maintain itself, it seeks sustainability. It acts in "self-defense", but critically it does not act in self-defense of its selfish, hierarchal control over others, but only in defense of its own sustainability.

How does this guide us in the appropriate use of violence? Well, if by "us" you mean any given nation-state, then it doesn't. Nation-states are all fundamentally hierarchal, and therefore are fixed in their use of violence to defend their self-interest in an environment of peer-polity competition. Was a pre-emptive strike against Iraq "self-defense". The answer will help us better understand the gray area problem and the need to define the justification of violence in terms of Hierarchy vs. Rhizome: sure, the 2003+ Iraq war was "self-defense". It was the defense of the selfish interests of the American hierarchy, without which it would cease to exist. For Hierarchy, selfish interest IS fundamentally self-defense!

Without passing divine judgment on absolute "right" and "wrong", Hierarchy (and its necessary component of violence) is not sustainable, while Rhizome (and its necessary component of violence) is sustainable. So, at least through the lens of Kant's categorical imperative, Hierarchy is "wrong" and Rhizome is "right".

So back to Ward Churchill for a moment: IF one accepts that it is right (or wrong) to act in defense of one's hierarchal interests (as America is doing in Iraq), is it any less right (or wrong) to attack America in defense of one's hierarchal interests (as al-Qa'ida is doing)? Were Iraqi conscripts any less (or more) the "little Eichmans" of hierarchy than were the 'knowledge-workers' (critical to America's economic hierarchy) that died in the 9/11 attacks?

**On a side note, it's important to mention that al-Qa'ida violence, at times, comes quite close to the Rhizome model of violence. While "we" may not like it because white people, often Americans are dying, the violence of the afghan tribes to defend remote hamlets from the influence of an outside hierarchy is quite rhizomatic in nature. Al-Qa'ida may aspire to form an Islamic, hierarchal empire, but they also hope to achieve victory by acting as a doctrine center for decentralized operations against their hierarchal enemy. It is my opinion that this strategy is being handicapped by the ideal of hierarchal Islam. If they were to instead act as a doctrine center, a teacher of the open source warfare model to be used by people everywhere to check hierarchy, they would meet with much greater success. The primary motivation of their recruits, and of unrest in the Arab and third world in general, stems, in my opinion, from an anti-hierarchal sentiment, not from a true belief in one monotheistic, hierarchal ideology or another. If this kind of open-source warfare catches on, watch out!

Thirty Theses

Jason Godesky of Anthropik has recently published a pair of excellent articles, one on diversity and the other on property. There is a lot worth reading at, but it is exciting to see that Jason has begun to integrate all of his thinking into a larger work, The Thirty Theses.

The titles of the 30 theses suggest that this will be an important work, so I have included it in my "Required Reading" list in anticipation of its completion. Here are the theses:

1. Diversity is the primary good.
2. Evolution is the result of diversity.
3. Humans are products of evolution.
4. Human population is a function of food supply.
5. Humans are neither good nor evil.
6. Humans are still Pleistocene animals.
7. Humans are best adapted to band life.
8. Human societies are defined by their food.
9. Agriculture is difficult, dangerous and unhealthy.
10. Emergent elites led the Agricultural Revolution.
11. Hierarchy is an unnecessary evil.
12. Agriculture and hierarchy need one another.
13. Civilization must always grow.
14. Civilization provides only the illusion of security.
15. We are currently fueling a mass extinction.
16. War as we know it is a result of civilization.
17. Civilization makes us sick.
18. The essence of civilization is coercion.
19. Civilization has no monopoly on art.
20. Civilization has no monopoly on science.
21. Civilization has no monopoly on medicine.
22. Peak Oil may lead our civilization to collapse.
23. Global warming may lead our civilization to collapse.
24. Complexity ensures our civilization’s collapse.
25. Civilization is running out of multi-dimensional “space.”
26. Collapse is now inevitable.
27. Collapse may not be the worst possibility.
28. It is possible for any individual to survive the collapse.
29. It will be impossible to rebuild civilization.
30. Humanity will survive, and even flourish.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Random Economics Thought of the Day...

Futures markets serve a valuable function: they facilitate the hedging of costs against an uncertain future, and they lubricate the market against a variety of threats via arbitrage. The Iowa Electronic Markets took an interesting spin on this concept in the last election: they created real-money futures on the winners of the 2004 US Presidential Election. At first blush this may seem like a distortion of the intended purpose of futures markets--this was, after all, just speculation. There were not uncertain costs to hedge against. It was intended to illustrate the ability of "the market" to integrate disparate information and fix a price more accurately than any one individual--in this case the political polls. But in reality it seemed to me more like betting on a fight in Vegas.

Until, of course, my random Friday-afternoon economics pondering...

Political decisions do, of course, reflect uncertain economic costs. So this kind of futures market may provide a very valuable hedge service. Take a few examples:

- If you're a were a Bush staffer, it would have made sense to buy a few "Kerry '04" call options. Bush wins, you keep your job and salary. Kerry wins, you lose your job and collect the small windfall on your options to tide you over until you can find another job.

- You're a US manufacturer concerned that the US will adopt the Kyoto protocol in 2008. Hedge your potential future costs by buying an option on this proposal.

Are these really "options", or are they just "bets"? It doesn't really matter if you call these positions "bets" or "options", or if they work on "odds" or "price"--they can serve the same valid economic purpose.

Most people bet on what they want to have happen. Hedging requires that one does the opposite. Would it make economic sense for a fighter to place a hedge bet on his opponent? Would it make economic sense for a football coach to place a bet that his own team will be below .500 next season? Both cases illustrate the capacity for "unorthodox hedges". Southwest Airlines certainly profited from one such hedge--they are 100% hedged on fuel costs through 2006, and as a result they are the only profitable airline.

What about the potential for arbitrage in such unconventional markets?

End of random thought.

Friday, July 01, 2005

A New Era: Resource Wars & Economic Colonialism

There are two fascinating trends emerging in the world today, both largely ignored by the “Mainstream Media”. The first is the realization that resource wars are upon us. The second is a growing worldwide solidarity among opponents of Western hegemony and economic imperialism.

The indicators of the coming era of resource-driven conflict are visible, but they don’t yet slap the public in the face. Peak Oil, the concept that the world production in hydrocarbons will peak and then begin a continual decline, is gradually beginning to show up on the public radar. This is probably because the concept is no longer the exclusive domain of end-times prophets and conspiracy-theory hacks: there is broad acceptance that Peak Oil will happen (USGS, DOE, French Energy Minister, ASPO, Saudi Oil Ministry, etc.), the only debate remaining is over the timing and the rate in production decline. If Matt Simmons (who has met with Bush on this topic) is correct, modern production methods will lead to very rapid production declines after peaking (as we’re seeing in the North Sea this year - a 17% decline).

Aaron Dunlap (of made an important statement about the impact of Peak Oil: “Be aware of peak oil… be afraid of how our world will react to it”. Well, the first signs of how the world will react are already showing, in China, Venezuela and Iran…

China’s 1.3 billion people, and their quickly growing economy are one of the prime movers behind the rapid increase in global demand for oil. China is just now starting to fill their own strategic petroleum reserve, and making overt grabs at oil resources, such as their $18.5 Billion cash offer for UnoCal. China and the US (leaders, at least) both understand that the victor in their eventual economic showdown will be decided by energy access. The real battlefront is kept well out of public view: the two nations are fighting over which direction Central Asian oil and gas will flow. America’s expanding network of Central Asian military bases, international accords and private-sector financing are working to ensure that Central Asian oil flows west along the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline for consumption by the West. China, meanwhile, is struggling to create an eastward-flowing system from the same source—and both are manipulating governments in the region to exclude the other.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and his “New Bolivarians” are at the vanguard of a broader movement against economic imperialism and exploitation policy. No longer content to accept the domination of Western economic forces, the New Bolivarians are looking to nationalize resource wealth and ensure self-determination by exerting control over the very energy resources that the West so badly needs. Chavez, in cooperation with factions in Panama, Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, China and elsewhere, holds Venezuela’s massive oil and gas reserves in a new iteration of the Cold War game of Mutually Assured Destruction. Already, he has expressed his lack of interest in increasing oil output as demanded by OPEC, is actively nationalizing Venezuela’s oil infrastructure, and is preparing to divest Venezuela of Citgo in a move designed to enable Venezuela to export their heavy, sour crude to either the US or China--the high bidder gets the oil, and Venezuela wins. Chavez’s policies of using oil wealth to provide medical care and housing to Venezuela’s poor, and his agenda of land reform and wealth redistribution have made him an incredibly popular and powerful figure at home. Already the broad appeal of his Bolivarian model is spreading: Bolivia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Nigeria and other hydrocarbon-rich nations are preparing to follow suit. Chavez’s bold moves are a grave threat to a Western economic system that is dependent on one-way resource flow from the Third World. Perhaps that explains the overtly anti-Chavez US policy, or the failed assassination and coup attempts backed by the US?

If Chavez is really smart, he’ll sell Citgo to the Chinese.

In Iran, a very similar game is playing itself out. I keep hearing on the news how the Iranian people love the West, love the US, and how it is just the Mullahs who insist on their hard-line policies. Excellent propaganda, but false. The Iranian people love economic prosperity--who doesn’t? But they do not make the mistake of thinking that the US will give this to them. As the recent popular vote for “hard-liner” Mahmood Ahmedinijad (pronounced: ahhh-not-gonna-work-here-anymore) shows, when faced with corruption and business as usual or a defiant stance against the established “international system”, the general public around the world is learning that the US does not have their best interest in mind.

Both Venezuela and Iran are interesting examples of the weakness of “American-Style” democracy, and the potential for regional democratic-autocratic blends to do a better job functioning in the interest of the people: Chavez is an excellent example of the enlightened dictator (although he is also a relatively-fairly-elected leader, just like Bush). Because their democracy doesn’t work the way Bush & Co. would like to see it work, Chavez actually has the power to do what is in the best interest of the common man (and he is doing a very good job at that), not what is in the best interest of the controlling elite that has traditionally ruled South America with the indigenous and poor masses under their heel. How Ahmedinijad performs is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: we are witnessing a world-wide resurgence of an attitude of independence and self-determination. Combine that with our looming energy problems and the stage is set for a new conflict that will redefine geopolitics as we know it.

The 20th century was defined by conflict between fascism, communism and capitalist-democracy. The 21st century will be defined by conflict between colonialism and true independence (both political AND economic freedom), between Empire and self-determination, and ultimately between Hierarchy and Rhizome.