Monday, September 26, 2005

The New Map: Terrorism in a Post-Cartesian World

I haven't posted much original content recently because I've been working on this:

The New Map: Terrorism in a Post-Cartesian World

The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation? (1)

- Gilles Deleuze

The Long War, Philip Bobbitt’s concept of the 20th century conflicts from World War I through the end of the Cold War, provided a consistent conceptual framework through which to view our world.(2) In this conflict, the struggle by Nation-States to legitimate one of a variety of theories of domestic political order was played out on the international stage. This century-long conflict ensured the continuity of the Nation-State framework until the world system could be unified behind a single, victorious theory of how to internally organize that state.(3)The eventual victory of the democratic-capitalist approach has resulted in the confirmation and acceleration of the trend towards globalization of the world’s economic activity. But, as with the conclusion of prior epochal conflicts,(4) the close of the Long War opened the door for a host of new threats to the Nation-State status quo. Chief among these threats, international terrorism poses a direct challenge to the very fabric of the Nation-State system.(5) Having spent the past nine years in the intelligence and counter-terrorism community, I am forced to conclude that our increasing failure to effectively combat terrorism is not merely the failure of programs and policies, but rather the fundamental failure of our paradigm. In order to understand and effectively confront terrorism, we must replace the current international paradigm of the Nation-State system with a New Map of our world: globalization and multiculturalism are invalidating the Cartesian geography of the Nation-State system, laying the framework for the coming epochal conflict embodied by the paradigm of hierarchy versus rhizome.

A paradigm shift is not a trivial affair.(6) In order to define and utilize this new paradigm it is first necessary to understand the old paradigm of the Nation-State system. Building upon this foundation, I will explain how globalization and multiculturalism led to the breakdown of Cartesian order, and with it the Nation-State. From there I will demonstrate that in the absence of a Cartesian world order it is not discrete state actors, but rather conflicting organizational principles such as hierarchy and rhizome that define our world.(7)These principles, and the inherent conflict between them, provide the paradigm for the New Map. I will conclude by examining how this new paradigm views counterterrorism in a manner that is fundamentally inconceivable to the Nation-State.

I. The Nation-State System

Our international system is founded upon the Nation-State paradigm that has gradually evolved out of developments among Italian city-states during the Renaissance.(8) Within the Nation-State paradigm, the state’s legitimacy is grounded upon its ability to provide security and welfare to a homogenous constituent nation.(9) This legitimacy is measured by the ability of the state to provide continuous, absolute, and relative gains in the standard of living of its nation. Despite the need to create gains relative to other nations, and especially to create gains relative to competing theories of Nation-State during the Long War, it was also necessary for the Nation-State to preserve at least the pretense of internal equality in order to maintain a unified national base. At least in first-world nations, a “[w]elfare ideology had…fostered the nationalist myth of a raceless, classless society."(10) It is the redistributive policies and entitlement programs that resulted from this need for internal equality that are today making the Nation-State so vulnerable to the processes of globalization.(11)

One of the defining features of the Nation-State system is its Cartesian sense of space.(12) National groups are assumed to conform to the exclusive territories and physical borders of the Nation-State. This is a critical assumption, as the legitimacy of a Nation-State is based upon its ability to provide for its nation, something that it can only do effectively if that nation is contained entirely within the borders of its sovereignty. The validity of a Nation-State on the international stage is in turn demonstrated by its ability to exert complete sovereignty over its territory. As long as all states conform to the notions of exclusive territory and total sovereignty, the system is stable. Since the end of the Cold War, most theorists have been attempting to shove the square peg of reality into the round hole of the Nation-State paradigm, but these efforts are “no more than the work of early cartographers . . . [t]hey are products of illusion, and they are faithful to their roots.”(13) In actuality, any process or phenomena that threatens to blur the exclusivity of the Cartesian system, that exhibits multiple and overlapping affinity groups, poses a mortal challenge to the Nation-State system.

II. The Eroding Foundation of the Nation-State

In the latter half of the 20th century, multiculturalism has spread throughout “Western” democracies,(14) with the notable exception of Japan.(15)The unprecedented human and cultural mobility of the latter half of the 20th century has undermined the contiguous ethnic nation that served as the foundation for the Nation-State.(16) It has been proposed under the “melting pot” theory of cultural assimilation the notion of the ethnic nation would dissolve. This would then lead to the rise of a “nation” defined not by ethnicity but by affiliation with a given state and its principles—a self-defining Nation-State.(17) For a variety of reasons, however, this self-defining “Nation-State” has not materialized. Alternative theories of multiculturalism encouraged immigrant groups to maintain their separate identities(18) while racism, lack of prior economic accumulation, international media access, and geographic proximity to parent-nations often conspired to reinforce these national divisions. While the homogenous nation upon which the Nation-State is founded was generally a historical fiction, it had been both sufficiently real and accepted as to serve as a stable foundation for the Nation-State. With the spread of multiculturalism, the contiguous, Cartesian nation that once served as the basis for the Nation-State is steadily eroding.

Globalization, the process of seeking international economies of place and scale, is another assault on the territorial barriers of the Nation-State system.(19) It creates a positive feedback cycle by both benefiting from and causing the destruction of the territorial exclusivity of the Nation-State. While the dissolution of Cartesian limitations facilitates the necessary further intensification of hierarchal structure, it also facilitates the emergence of the competing, co-spatial, contemporaneous paradigm of rhizome that is currently embodied by the phenomena of international terrorism.(20)

The rise in trans-national terrorism is perhaps the final straw that, when combined with the influences of multiculturalism and globalization, destroys the legitimacy of the Nation-State. The Nation-State system is predicated upon the twin principles of sovereignty: a domestic monopoly on the use of violence, and a singular focus for inter-state violence.(21) Terrorism invalidates both claims. Exacerbated by reactionary ideologies (22) and the expanding economic inequality brought by globalization,(23) terrorism undermines the state’s role of security provider.(24) Additionally, as independent international actors, both terrorist organizations and multinational corporations represent their own interests, unconstrained by either a Cartesian notion of Nation-State borders or the prevailing interests of a national constituency. In a world freed of the rigid delineation of the Nation-State system, and with the substantial, overlapping web of affiliation and connectivity created by, among other things, terrorism and multinational corporations, the stage is set for a defining conflict that will replace the last vestiges of the Nation-State with the New Map.(25)

III. Beyond the Nation-State, Beyond Cartesian Order

Fueled by the breakdown of Cartesian order, the spread of multiculturalism, and technological advancements in communication and transportation, the hierarchal process of globalization is forcing the Nation-State to evolve or die.(26) Those states that are evolving to maintain viability are gradually taking the form of the Market-State,(27) an awkward and unfinished formulation where the actors of globalization exert their influence on the state to leverage the remnant allegiances of national populations in their favor.(28) But in the face of the growth of globalization, a rhizome(29) countermovement is emerging.

It may have been Nietzsche who best captured the emergence of rhizome with his famous question. “Problem: where are the barbarians? Obviously they will come into view and consolidate themselves only after tremendous socialist crises."(30) The social crises created by globalization, multiculturalism, and the decline of the Nation-State system has opened the door to a fundamentally new kind of “barbarian” in rhizome’s structural opposition to hierarchy. Hierarchy, an unstable organizational pattern(31) that is constantly evolving toward a more intense, centralized, and interdependent form, is the organizing principle behind globalization. Rhizome, the opposing constitutional system of a network of stable-state, independent but interacting nodes is the animating principle behind both terrorism and the more benign economic processes of localization and self-sufficiency that stand in opposition to globalization.(32) The interaction of hierarchy and rhizome inherently generates conflict as hierarchy’s attempts to create economic dependency through economies of place and scale are mutually exclusive of rhizome’s tendency to devolve economic structures towards localized independence and parity.

In a world largely stuck in the mindset of the Nation-State and oblivious to the emerging conflict of hierarchy versus rhizome, terrorism is the vanguard of a rhizome movement that sits on the cusp of a dawning, non-Cartesian reality. It is what Antonio Negri has called a “diagonal” that opposes hierarchy by confronting its weaknesses, rather than its strengths.(33) Rhizome is out of phase with hierarchy while simultaneously occupying the same point in history. It is emergent, analogous to the emergent intelligence of the human brain(34) compared to the machine intelligence of hierarchy.(35) This emergent nature manifests itself in the unconsciously coordinated action of ideologically linked rhizome nodes, affinity groups that jump the boundaries of Nation-State borders. One example is the complex web of interaction between Middle-Eastern Islamic extremism, South American populism, the struggle of indigenous groups to control hydrocarbon resources, and cross-border drug-trafficking. It is this kind of emergent “nation”—the networked affiliation between groups as diverse as al-Qa’ida, Hugo Chavez and Salvadoran Maras(36)—that is replacing the Cartesian “nation” of the Nation-State system. While the fringes of the United States intelligence community understand the watershed threat posed in combination by these seemingly unrelated phenomena(37), the Nation-State paradigm that dominates state power is not capable of perceiving the greater threat. Perhaps more importantly, because rhizome is oblique to the perception of hierarchy, the actors of globalization do not realize that rhizome terrorism is not fighting the state itself, but that the source of conflict is the fundamental incompatibility of rhizome with the hierarchal engines of both globalization and the state. Proponents of globalization suggest that the leveraging of economies of place and of scale will bring wealth to the worlds poor and one day eliminate the root cause of terrorism. Such theories demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the cause of terrorism: rhizome movements do not seek to regress to less efficient forms of hierarchy, but rather seek freedom from hierarchy, and its symptoms of dependency, disparity and instability. Rhizome is not merely the struggle against hierarchy, but it is the proposition of an alternate mode of economic organization that is fundamentally more compatible with human ontogeny,(38) and that actually reduces society’s capacity for conflict.(39)

IV. Navigating the New Map

New paradigms present opportunities and demand actions that are inconceivable to the preceding paradigm. Mutually Assured Destruction is an example, a strategy that, while rational to the Nation-State, was entirely incomprehensible to the preceding paradigm of the State-Nation.(40) Similarly, the New Map presents the opportunity to address the fundamental causes of terrorism, but only in a manner that is inconceivable to the Nation-State: defeating terrorism by co-opting its organizational principle of rhizome. This sounds irrational and completely “un-American.”(41) It is. Those within the Nation-State paradigm praise as “American” those things which are fundamental to the constitutional nature of the American Nation-State. Similarly, the principles of the French and American Revolutions were antithetical to the fundamental basis of the kingly states of France and Britain.(42)That did not invalidate the French or American revolutions, and similarly the “un-American” nature of rhizome does not mean that it is not the most prudent course of action at the dawn of a new age.

Within the New Map there are two choices. Existing Nation-States can embrace hierarchy, and transition to the market-state model, as envisioned by constitutional law professor Phillip Bobbitt,(43) or they can embrace rhizome and embark upon the same bold adventure of constitutional invention that created America over two centuries ago. Those that embrace hierarchy will likely continue to face the emergent, rhizome forces of those who must, by definition, reside at the base of hierarchy’s pyramid—terrorists and freedom fighters alike. Those states that choose to transition to rhizome, however, may finally escape this structural violence of hierarchy.

The New Map brings the uncomfortable situation of treading in new and unfamiliar territory, with its fundamental departure from the historical establishments upon which our cultural identities are founded. But it may also provide a source of hope for the future. The absurdity and injustice of national borders that elevate the economic well-being of select groups based mainly upon their race or ethnicity may recede or fade away.(44) Absent the Nation-State bastions of ethnic and racial division, multiculturalism may finally fulfill its promise of tolerance and equality among humans. Similarly, the promise of rhizome structure to reduce social stratification, wealth disparity, and motivation for conflict may create a stable, just basis for international society—a basis that is impossible within the strict confines of sovereignty and territory that define the Nation-State system. With an understanding of the New Map, it becomes self-evident that clinging to the remnants of the Nation-State will only serve to fuel reactionary ideologies and terrorist tactics. It is by accepting the potential of the New Map and fostering the development of rhizome structure that we can hope to disarm terrorism, eliminating the very division and disparity that is its raison d’être.

1. Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus 29 (Brian Massumi trans., U. Minn. Press 1983) (1980).

2. See Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History 7 (2002).

3. The chief theories of Nation-State organization are the democratic-capitalist model, embodied by the U.K. and the U.S., the communist model, embodied in the U.S.S.R., and the fascist model, embodied by Germany under National Socialism.

4. For example, the close of the era of kingly states with the Napoleonic Wars unleashed the forces of national sentiment on the largely unprepared aristocracy of Europe.

5. Kenichi Ohmae, The End of the Nation State 7 (1995).

6. See Denise Breton & Christopher Largent, The Paradigm Conspiracy: Why Our Social Systems Violate Human Potential – And How We Can Change Them 7 (1996).

7. James Rosenau also sees a global conflict, but rather than juxtapose the concepts of hierarchy and rhizome, he uses the term “fragmegration” to denote the opposing tendency of hierarchy to integrate and centralize while rhizome fragments the world through decentralization and localization. See James Rosenau, Distant Proximities: Dynamics Beyond Globalization 2003.

8. The development of absolute sovereignty contained in a discrete state stems from the rejection of Papal authority by Italian city-states, and culminates in the treaties that ended the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), commonly known in their collective form as the Peace of Westphalia. See Treaty of peace of Münster, Fr.-Holy Roman Empire, Oct. 24, 1648, 1 Parry 271 and Treaty of Osnabrück, Swed.-Holy Roman Empire, Oct 24, 1648, 1 Parry 119. The association of a single state with a single nation, forming the modern Nation-State concept, was most significantly advanced at the Congress of Vienna, which laid the foundation for Bismark’s unification of the German nation under the Prussian state. See Final Act (General Treaty) of the Congress of Vienna, June 9, 1815, 64 Parry 453.

9. See Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History 468 (2002).

10. Jane Kelsey, Restructuring the Nation: The Decline of the Colonial Nation-State and Competing Nationalisms in Aotearoa/New Zealand, in Nationalism, Racism and the Rule of Law 177 (Peter Fitzpatrick ed., 1995).

11. See Peer Zumbansen, Quod Omnes Tangit: Globalization, Welfare Regimes and Entitlement, in The Welfare State, Globalization, and International Law 135 (Eyal Benvenisti and Georg Nolte eds., 2004).

12. Cartesian space refers to the contiguous, exclusive territories of Nation-States laid out on a Cartesian plane, as proposed by Rene Descartes.

13. Kenichi Ohmae, The End of the Nation State 8 (1995).

14. See Vernon M. Briggs, Mass Immigration and the National Interest (1996).

15. See Wilhelm Heitmeyer, Xenophobia: Modernization's Curse, 5 European Affairs 51-57 (1991).

16. See Gerard Delanty, Beyond the Nation-State: National Identity and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society, 3 Sociological Research Online (1996),

17. See Gerard Delanty, Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality (1995).

18. See Peter J. Pitts, Tossed Salad for the Holiday ,The One Republic, Dec. 22, 2004,

19. See Thomas L. Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century (2005).

20. See Jeff Vail, Rhizome, Guerrilla Media, Swarming and Asymmetric Politics in the 21st Century, in Politics To-Go: A Guide to Using Mobile Technology in Politics 47 (2005).

21. See Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History 206 (2002).

22. See Robert Wright, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny 232 (2000).

23. See Anuradha Mittal, The South in the North, in Views from the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countires 164 (Sarah Anderson ed., 2000).

24. See John Robb, Primary Loyalties, Global Guerrillas, Jan. 5, 2005,

25. See, e.g., Nico Schrijver, Sovereignty versus Human Rights? A Tale of UN Security Council Resolution 688 (1991) on the Protection of the Kurdish People, in The Role of the Nation-State in the 21st Century: Human Rights, International Organizations and Foreign Policy 347 (Monique Castermans-Holleman, et al. eds., 1998).

26. Where the Nation-State has refused to abandon its national roots, as in Colombia or Somalia, the resulting failed state has not, in turn, failed the processes of globalization. On the contrary, the argument has been made that such total breakdowns of the Nation-State create conditions that are ideally suited to business interests. See John Robb, Guerrilla Entrepreneurs, Global Guerrillas, Oct. 22, 2004,

27. See Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (2002).

28. See John Breuilly, Nationalism and the State 94 (1982).

29. See Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 506(Brian Massumi trans., U. Minn. Press, 1987) (1980).

30. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power 465 (Walter Kaufman trans., Vintage Press, 1968) (1888).

31. Any pattern that is predicated upon continuous growth must eventually exceed its resource base and collapse. See Joseph A. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988).

32. For a detailed account of rhizome as the animus for economic localization efforts by marginalized groups in opposition to the perceived threat of globalization, see Jeff Vail, A Theory of Power (2004), available at

33. Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Empire (2000).

34. Rhizomatic intelligence is similar to human intelligence in that uncontrolled, non-hierarchal interaction leads to the emergence of directed action, the direction for which cannot be sourced from the interaction. See, e.g., Howard Bloom, The Global Brain (2000) and John H. Holland, Emergence: From Chaos to Order (1998).

35. For a discussion of the information processing capabilities of Hierarchy and Rhizome, see Robert Anton Wilson, Quantum Psychology (1990).

36. Maras, or Central American street gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha-13, now constitute the largest organized crime presence within the United States. They utilize their extensive cross-border ties and their shared ability to identify with a distant homeland to control the majority of the trans-American drug trade.

37. See, e.g., Jeff Vail, Keynote Address at the Summer 2005 Interagency Forum on Infrastructure Protection: The Global Threat Puzzle: Understanding the Rhizome Threat (Jul. 8, 2005).

38. For an in-depth examination of the potential for rhizome structure to better meet the demands of human ontogeny, see Jeff Vail, A Theory of Power (2004), available at

39. See Jeff Vail, Defending Pala: Rhizome as a Mode of Military Operations, Sep. 6, 2005,

40. Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kenedy, conceived of the concept of Mutually assured destruction, but had a difficult time convincing Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin of the concept, as he was stuck in the mentality of the State-Nation (while Russia is known for nationalist semtiment, the U.S.S.R. was a state that was a diverse collection of nations, and suffered from ‘early-onset fractionalism’ as a result—perhaps the first example of the failure of a self-defining Nation-State). See Mad is not Bad, 17 New Perspective Quarterly, Sep. 25, 2005,

41. For example, in President Bush’s address of , he noted that “We will defend the values of our country…we will persevere in this struggle no matter how long it takes to prevail.” George W. Bush, President of the U.S., Presidential Address (Nov. 8, 2001), available at

42. See Caroline Thomas, New States, Sovereignty and Intervention 4 (1998).

43. See Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History 283 (2002).

44. See Paul Treanor, Why Destroy the Nation-State,

Friday, September 23, 2005

Just like Iraq, only different...

As more critical reporting emerges from post-Katrina New Orleans, it's beginning to look more and more like the "reconstruction" effort in Iraq:

"In Iraq, limited accountability, corruption, massive cost overruns, and devastating failures fed the chaotic mess that has followed the 2003 fall of Baghdad. Nonetheless, the largest Katrina contracts have been won by many of the same politically connected companies that oversaw that failed reconstruction. And it is perhaps no coincidence, since many of the same people in the Army Corps of Engineers are awarding them-and in much the same manner: as open-ended, no- or hastily bid contracts with guaranteed profit margins."
- From "Big, Easy Iraq-Style Contracts Flood New Orleans" by Pratap Chatterjee


"As business leaders and government officials talk openly of changing the demographics of what was one of the most culturally vibrant of America's cities, mercenaries from companies like DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) are fanning out to guard private businesses and homes, as well as government projects and institutions. Within two weeks of the hurricane, the number of private security companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to 235. Some, like Blackwater, are under federal contract. Others have been hired by the wealthy elite"
- From "Blackwater Down" by Jeremy Scahill

A genuine response to unique and demanding circumstances, or a pattern of self-enriching behavior?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Doesn't anyone learn Economics these days?

I've learned recently, much to my surprise, that it's possible--even probable--to get a college degree without ever taking a basic economics course. No macro. No micro. Nothing. Mention the equillibrium of supply and demand, and blank looks all around. I guess that explains some of the recent public reaction to oil prices:

#1: Price gouging. This how people who didn't take an economics class complain about the market functioning to ration supplies in the face of unanticipated events. If you don't like paying a lot for gas, then your alternative is going to the pumps and not being able to get any gas. It's like bread lines in the Soviet Union. I remember looking at the bare shelves in Moscow in 1989...I'll take price gouging, thank you. Note: not to be confused with price fixing under monopolistic conditions.

#2: Tax on Windfall Profits: When decreasing supplies meet up with highly inelastic demand, prices rise, just like what is happening to oil now (discounting speculative impact, which is minimal over the medium to long-term). When oil companies have a fixed cost of production, and the price of a barrel of crude doubles, they make a lot more money. There is a popular movement afoot to create a special tax for these windfall profits. Bad idea. If that happens, there will be a greatly decreased incentive for wildcat operations and other forms of exploration that will find and exploit new oil supplies. In the face of peak oil, if market signals (high prices) can't maximize exploration, then the impact of peaking supplies will be very, very harsh.

#3: Refinery shortage is driving up crude prices. Not over the mid to long-term it isn't. You can't arbitrage crude and refined products without spare refinery capacity. If refinery capacity is tight, or damaged by a hurricane, this means that there is LESS demand for crude because the refiners don't want to take delivery and pay for inventory that they can't refine and sell. Less demand for crude, given the roughly constant supply, would give us lower prices. In fact, the demand for crude, as demonstrated by refinery intakes, has been quite steady over the short term, and is growing at a very predictable rate over the long term. This means that our rising prices are caused by supply issues.

#4: I saved this one for the unquestioning believers in the free-market. Peak Oil is NOT a fallacy of economics 101. In a pristine academic environment, rising price of a resource will create a greater incentive to go find more of that resource and sell it. So economists of the "Chicago School" tell us that Peak Oil is bunk: as prices rise, we will have more incentive to find more, and so we'll find more and then prices will return to equillibrium. Which works great as long as there's a geologically unlimited supply. Aaaah, there's the rub. So, when confronted with that, Chicago School economists say "sure, but then high prices will just cause us to convert to alternatives, keeping demand constantly in equillibrium with supply." I agree with that statement 100%. I just have a bit more imagination when it comes to what these "alternatives" are. For example, letting people in the "Green Revolution" countries starve to death for lack of petroleum-based fertilizer is an alternative that keeps us driving our Hummers. Collapse of civilizational complexity to, say, neo-feudalism, is another alternative to our fuel-hungry globalized economy. Peak Oil is very real, the only unknowns are exactly when and exactly what the impact will be.

So, if the vagaries of fortune got you through college without an econ course, go buy Henry Hazlit's "Economics in One Lesson", and then remind yourself that "opportunity cost" can refer to human die-off, and that people who stand to profit from a broken window don't care about Bastiat's fallacy. You'll have saved yourself 3 credit hours and be better off for it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Chavez on Democracy Now

It's Hugo Chavez day on Democracy Now...

Not only is there an in-depth interview with Chavez (available as streaming audio), but there is a second piece where Jesse Jackson effectively sumarizes why Chavez is seen as such a threat by certain circles in the US: "[Chavez] Invests in Its People...U.S. Invests In Tax Cuts for the Wealthy and a War that does not Make Sense in Iraq."

And all this while the US is opening up an airbase in Paraguay.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

TV & Radio

Despite general praise for Jerry Mander's "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television", I'd like to recommend a few things on the large and small screen:

- "The Lords of War": Excellent movie about global arms trade, highly recommended.
- "The Constant Gardener": Excellent movie about Anglo-American manipulation and its cost in Africa. Also just an excellent movie with amazing scenery and cinematography.
- "The Yes Men": Available on DVD/VHS, hillarious and important film on the "Yes Men" and their efforts to expose the truth about the WTO via satire and impersonation.

On television. Well, actually only on Link TV (Direct TV channel 375, Dish Network channel 9410):
- Saturday, October 1st at 8pm EST: "The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror"
- Sunday, October 2nd at 10pm EST: "The End of Suburbia" (Peak Oil film)

And now on to radio... for what it's worth (I have no information to contradict at this time), from Wayne Madsen:

"The Bush administration continues to back the Khuzestan separatist movement in the oil-rich southwestern province the majority Arab population calls Ahwaz. As reported by WMR last month, the backing for the Sh'ia Arab separatist movement involves direct support by U.S. intelligence operatives. However, this support primarily involves support from the parallel intelligence operation established in the Pentagon under intelligence undersecretary Stephen Cambone and Undersecretary for Policy and Plans Eric Edelman (the successor to Douglas Feith who was, most recently, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey). the CIA largely remains outside of the anti-Iran operations.In fact, an Ar abic speaking Iranian-American from Khuzestan who works for the Department of Defense has been assigned to the Pentagon's Office of Northern Gulf Affairs office within the Policy and Plans Directorate's Near East and South Asia (NESA) division to help coordinate activities with the Ahwaz separatist groups -- some of whom have committed terrorist acts in the province. The Gulf Affairs office replaced the infamous Office of Special Plans that crafted the phony intelligence in the lead up to the war in Iraq.

In addition, U.S. intelligence sources report that the State Department, through the active support of new International Public Diplomacy Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, is actively supporting clandestine radio broadcasts to Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan. These broadcasts are conducted by the Voice of the Ahwaz Revolution and are transmitted from Basra, Iraq. The clandestine radio broadcasts complement the very public Radio Farda (broadcasts to Iran in Farsi) and Radio Sawa (broadcasts in Arabic throughout the Arab world). Both stations are operated by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, a State Department entity headed by Norman Pattiz, the owner of radio syndicator Westwood One who has strong ties to the right wing government of Israel.

The Pentagon and State Department are also jointly supporting other propaganda activities aimed at stirring up rebellion among Iranian minorities, including Iranian Kurds, Baluchis, and southern Azeris. In addition to the Ahwaz Arabs, the U.S. actions are having their greatest impact among the Kurds. The U.S. is also supporting clandestine radio broadcasts to incite Iran's Baluchi minority in eastern Iran. These broadcasts are also transmitted from Iraq (Sulaymaniyah, in northern Iraq). Other clandestine broadcasts are aimed at Iranian Azeris and Kurds. U.S. efforts to stir up Iran's Turkmen population along the Caspian Sea have been totally unsuccessful, according to U.S. intelligence sources. 'The Iranian Turkmen are only interested in caviar and tobacco," said one U.S. intelligence source. "

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Several updates:

- "A Theory of Power" is now available as a .pdf file, in the originally published version
- You can still read the book online in the old format HERE
- More importantly, in collaboration with, "A Theory of Power" is now available in an experimental, dynamic format online. There will be more about this in the near future, but for now, visit
- George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet just published "Politics to Go", which includes two of my essays, "Swarming: Why Mobile Powered Movements Sometimes Succeed and Sometimes Fail", and "What is Rhizome, and what does it have to do with mobile politics?". The book is not yet available online, but earlier versions of these essays are available HERE and HERE.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Why High Oil Prices are Good for Bush

Pundits on the left and right decry the "Pain at the Pump", and other catch-phrases to describe the high oil prices affecting us at present. Traditional wisdom suggests that we need to lower these oil prices in order to prevent economic slowdown, and to prevent too much money from flowing into the hands of terrorist-supporting states. While it certainly makes for good PR for the current administration to say they're doing everything they can to reduce oil prices, here's why high prices--in fact, even higher prices--are good for their agenda:

1. High oil prices subsidize US defecit spending. When other countries need to buy US Dollar-denominated oil from OPEC, they need to buy dollars to do this. This significantly raises the demand for dollars, meaning that the US can operate on larger and larger deficits (more supply of dollars) without impacting the exchange rate (equillibrium). This means that Bush can spend more without asking the American people to foot the bill. If, as Philip Bobbitt says, the legitimacy of the nation state is predicated upon the continual increase of the well-being of its people, then Bush can maintain this illusion as long as oil prices are rising.

2. High oil prices help keep the House of Saud in power. Saudi Arabia exports about 360 million barrels of oil a year. If they profit around $60 per barrel, then they have an oil-income of $21.6 billion per year, or twice what they get when oil is selling for $30 per barrel. Most analysts, myself included, think that Saudi Arabia is a ticking time-bomb, and that the continual growth in population, and subsequent decrease in standard of living, will inevitably lead to the overthrow of the House of Saud, to be replaced with an islamic government of some sort. So far, the House of Saud has postponed these problems by throwing money at the people through stipends, pensions, works projects, cushy government jobs...whatever it takes to keep the people of Saudi Arabia thinking that it's in their best interest to keep the Sauds in power. As long as oil prices keep going up, the Saudis will continue to be able to maintain this revolving-credit regime insurance policy. Since keeping the House of Saud in power is clearly in the best interest of the administration, rising oil prices are also in their best interest...

With these two factors combined, it seems likely that even if Bush is telling the public that he's working to bring down oil prices, the real policies of the administration will work to ensure that prices rise steadily and controllably for the next decade...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Peak Oil, Freakonomics & Post-Katrina Oil Demand

Kunstler's recent guest-blogger Dmitry Podborits has an excellent critique of the "Freakonomis" critique of Peak Oil. Podborits points out that the traditional economics mantra of "the market will resolve supply and demand issues" works great. The market WILL resolve the Peak Oil problem...just maybe not in the "onward to Star Trek utopia" manner that we might like. Rising prices, even when confronted with inelastic demand, will eventually reduce that demand. But in light of the geological, chemical and physcial realities of energy, that reduction in demand may come in the form of war, die-off, fundamental restructuring of society, collapse of the global economy (a la Tainter), etc. After all, the market will find a way...

On another note, what will the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina be on oil demand? Traditional "wisdom" tells us that it will cause a decrease in GDP growth--perhaps even a full-blown global recession--and therefore a decrease in global oil demand. Let's look at this another way: IF you accept the government provided inflation numbers, we produce about twice as much GDP per barrel of oil consumed today than we did in the '70s. That's largely because we now have a much more service and information orriented economy than we did 30 years ago. Here's the catch: in the aftermath of Katrina, there will be 100's of billions of dollars from government and private sources (largely credit-based) spent on manufacturing and construction--new homes, infrastrcuture, durable goods, etc. I contend that the aftermath of Katrina will result in an increase in economic spending, and that this spending will be on a 1970's level of GDP/barrel of oil. Katrina will increase short and mid-term oil demand just at the time that global supplies may begin to decrease... this really may be THE trigger event.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Hierarchy and the Emergence of Global Intelligence

Hierarchy is a machine pattern, but it can spawn the development of a global rhizome

Rhizome is a potentially intelligent pattern

Analogy: Computer (mechanical processing) vs. Brain (emergent intelligence)

Rhizome is a parasite on the skeleton of hierarchy

Will either hierarchy or rhizome prevail, or will they co-evolve?

Computer search algorithms compared to human intelligence

The conceptual “free market” is analogous to a computer search algorithm—effective, but inefficient

Could rhizome impact the effectiveness of the free market by adding “human” intelligence to the free-market’s mechanical search algorithm?

Rhizome: will it be crushed by hierarchy, will it crush hierarchy, or will it balance hierarchy, forming some kind of structural symbiosis?

Global Terrorism: is this the first crude, reactionary but intelligent moderation of hierarchy? How so?

Despite the incredible misnomer that is “terrorism”, the way that the Bush administration actually uses the term (encompassing a wide range of counter-hierarchy forces) may be the most accurate encapsulization yet of the emergent global rhizome.

The ideological alignment of “terrorism” around the world serves as a negative feedback mechanism as hierarchy’s economic intensification increasingly infringes upon the constraints of human ontogeny.

Which is more destructive from a Gaia standpoint: terrorism modifying hierarchy or unchecked hierarchal intensification?

Co-evolution is a non-linear equation…

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Defending Pala: Rhizome as a Mode of Military Operations

How would the military of a rhizome polity look and function? What would be the tactical and strategic issues at the core of a military confrontation between hierarchy and rhizome? How does looking at rhizome through the lens of military organization help better illuminate the concept, and specifically help to explain the nature of the conflicts presently facing the U.S. If nothing else, it’s an interesting thought experiment… military?
Rhizome, a non-hierarchal, non-centralized mode of organization, is a very square peg that we are trying to fit into the traditionally very round hole of military analysis. But suspend, for a moment, such traditional notions of hierarchal and authoritarian militaries, and instead think of “military” as the mode of violent expression of an organizational pattern, be it hierarchy, rhizome, etc.
All human organization demands some mode of violent expression, even if that mode consists of pacifism and capitulation in the face of another’s violence. War is generally a wasteful and nonproductive economic activity, even though it may certainly enrich some of the participants. In the case of hierarchy vs. rhizome, however, the economically inefficient activity of equipping rhizome to repel hierarchy is less inefficient than permitting their annexation and conversion to hierarchal means of economic activity. Likewise, while violence in se is a greater moral wrong than pacifism in se, it is cumulatively worse to permit the trespasses of hierarchy when they can otherwise be avoided.
Furthermore, rhizome war may represent an end to war. The history of warfare is a history of hierarchy. Rhizome polities, as they have existed in a lesser approximation of fully rhizome form, have never been able to repel the advance of hierarchy. As a result, warfare has been an activity entered into exclusively by hierarchy, against either rhizome or against another hierarchy. It has been a constant evolutionary struggle, with alternating innovations in tactics or politics, offense or defense leading to a perpetual war among human polities instigated by the innovator. Rhizome cannot “make war” in the classical sense, because it has no capacity for offensive warfare—the kind of military operations that I will outline here are structurally limited to defensive and reactionary operations (even if they may use offensive tactics to defensive ends). This is because rhizome is structurally incapable of exerting control beyond itself—the pattern of rhizome can spread, but it is fundamentally incapable of controlling another entity. For this reason, rhizome has no motivation to instigate war—it can only respond to aggression by hierarchy. Therefore, if one accepts that it is possible to develop the theory of rhizome military operations to the extent that it cannot be defeated by hierarchy, then rhizome war equals an end to war, as hierarchy will not instigate a war that it does not think it can win.
Let me then get right to the point: how a rhizome military could be organized. I’ll start by laying out a proposed set of principles for rhizome war: Independence, Interaction, Open Source, Time & Place. Contrast these to the classic principles of hierarchal war (as taught by US military academies) and notice how they define hierarchy in general: Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity.
The four principles of rhizome warfare:
Independence: the downtrodden and oppressed of history have tended to fight hierarchy by organizing themselves into a semi-hierarchal structure, often abandoning their semi-rhizome roots in the process. The problem with this process is that IF they defeat their hierarchal opponent, the victorious downtrodden masses suddenly find that the traction of the hierarchal institutions introduced along the way to victory have too much inertia, and the new society eventually becomes just another oppressive hierarchy. For this reason, the first principle of rhizome warfare is independence. An extant rhizome structure must not abandon its rhizome nature. Rather, it must embrace rhizome. If rhizome forms a platoon, battalion or division in its own defense, it has already lost. A rhizome military functions just like a rhizome economy—as the emergent action of independent nodes, independent warriors. Napoleon’s use of the independent military corps revolutionized European warfare. Rhizome warfare extends this principle further, atomizing Napoleon’s corps to create self-sustaining, self-directing, combined arms “corps” of single individuals, or of small, voluntary groupings derived from rhizome nodes.
Interaction: like classical rhizome, the emergent action of a rhizome military is a function of the strength of the interactions between component nodes. The primary preoccupation of the hierarchal military is not actually violence, but rather information processing—intelligence, strategizing, communicating orders, etc. It is here that the rhizome military holds its greatest advantage, as rhizome can process information more efficiently than hierarchy. This does not need to be directed as with hierarchy—the rhizome military functions by emergent action. Just as the seemingly random and disorganized interactions between billions of neurons in our brains process information to a greater impact than the fastest hierarchal supercomputer, the strength of action of a rhizome military is dependent on the seemingly random and disorganized interaction of its component nodes. These interactions must follow the classical rhizome pattern: both strong and weak, near and far, brief and in-depth.
Open Source: The single factor that compounds the information processing problems more than any other is secrecy. Hierarchal, offensive operation depends on exclusive knowledge or innovative tactics and methods. Imagine if Eisenhower had told Hitler, “in three months from today, I will land my forces in Normandy, NOT Pas de Calais.” That wouldn’t have worked too well. The need to safeguard these secrets created an enormous burden on the Allied forces. Rhizome does not face such a burden. All communications, capabilities, intentions and activities within a rhizome military must be entirely in open; open source, freely available and unauthenticated. The fact that a hierarchal opponent will be able to freely access this information is irrelevant, for the sheer magnitude of information emanating independently, differently and continuously from every rhizome node will completely overwhelm the ability of hierarchy to process this information. Unlike hierarchal communications, there will be no one piece that is more important than another, and the total lack of graduated security of communications will provide no indication as to any relative importance of information. This will negate then entire intelligence capability of hierarchy, while at the same time ensuring the smooth operation of rhizome’s information processing engine.
Time & Space: Because of the constitutional nature of hierarchy, time and space work in favor of rhizome, and must be exploited as a tool of rhizome warfare. Due to the constitutional nature of hierarchal opponents, they are severely restrained by the need to meet certain criteria in time and place. Traditional warfare is defined by the application of decisive force at the right time and place—the key there being the need for decisive action that meets a demanding set of criteria. Hierarchy has a structural need to continuously grow in order to survive, and therefore must seek out and win decisive battles in order to prevail in warfare. These decisive battles must be both near enough in time to meet their constitutional need for continuous expansion and intensification, and must happen at concentrated points in space to facilitate the application of hierarchy’s strength of centralization. The very nature of rhizome is effective in defeating hierarchy; it is not concentrated in the near term, or in centralized to specific points in space. Rather, rhizome is a non-historical process, one that does not require the arrow of time that hierarchy depends on in the form of centralization and intensification. Rhizome’s natural state is that of stasis. Similarly, rhizome exists in a distributed, non-centralized structure, and therefore is naturally prevented from succumbing to the hierarchal military’s need for a pitched and decisive battle. Rhizome can defeat hierarchy simply by maintaining its stasis and avoiding pitched battles. It must embrace the classical rhizome approach to time and space.
By Way of Illustration:
In Aldous Huxley’s ultimate novel, Island, the ideal society of Pala is destroyed by the war-like, hierarchal neighboring state of Rendang, with the aid and encouragement of a British oil company. The Raja of Pala decided to simply acquiesce to Rendang’s aggression rather than try to take up arms to fight off the invasion, presumably because he did not want to force his rhizome society into a hierarchal fighting machine. Could Pala have retained its rhizome structure and defeated Rendang at the same time? Perhaps an analysis of rhizome elements of today’s conflicts can provide an answer.
Rhizome military principles are at work around the world today to a greater or lesser degree: the F.A.R.C. in Colombia, the Sunni Insurgency in Iraq, the White Supremacist “leaderless resistance” movement in the United States, and the Earth Liberation Front, just to name a few. But purely as a thought experiment, would it be possible for a relatively backwards and unsophisticated hierarchal military to reshape itself into a rhizome military, and in the process defeat the world’s most capable hierarchal military? Specifically, could Iran reshape itself into a rhizome military to defeat a US invasion? And, perhaps more interestingly, would such a policy either force or catalyze the transition of Iranian society as a whole from hierarchy to rhizome?
Iran could abandon its current hierarchal military and devolve into a rhizome of a hundred thousand independent individual “corps” units. These would be complimentary in equipment and specialty, capable of temporarily operating jointly or individually. Each rhizome corps would be minimally self-sufficient in food, transportation, weaponry and communications, and each would have some degree of unique or specialized function in addition to these minimums of independence. A quick list of the various permutations of the rhizome corps: sniper “node”, MANPADS “node”, medical “node”, motorbike messenger/scout “node”, communications “node”, etc. They would operate in a manner that is perhaps best described as “reverse swarming”…rather than coalescing just in time to present a critical mass to confront the enemy, they would leverage their advantage at ranged fire while always fading away into the fabric of the local populace or wilderness just before the enemy can concentrate sufficient mass to force an encounter that favors hierarchy. They would freely communicate and share information about their operations with anyone and everyone, overwhelming the information processing capabilities of hierarchy, while leveraging their own emergent information processing advantage. Many of these techniques are already at work in the worlds many insurgencies, with perhaps the notable exception of the intentional use of “open source” command and control.
While this theory of rhizome warfare is undeveloped and largely untested as a complete package, its effectiveness can be observed by analogy all around us, from the impact of blogs to the inability of the US military to force Islamic insurgents into a pitched battle (despite their overt attempt in Fallujah). Perhaps most importantly, as a full package, the methods of rhizome warfare may actually strengthen the societal and economic patterns of a rhizome society.

Is Castro Still Relevant?

I'm reminded of the classic Monty Python lines: "Look, I'm being repressed! See the violence inherent in the system." But seriously, is this Cold War-era holdout still a relevant force in today's world? Yes, and here's why:

Cuba offered 1,100 doctors to help out with the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina, that could have been in place last Wednesday. The US State Department said "no thanks." Sure, we could construe this as political manuevering on Castro's part, but he has accepted US post-hurricane aid in the past few years, so that argument doesn't hold much water. This is the same Castro who is dealing remarkably well with the huge loss of subsidy from the former USSR, and is on the cutting edge of adapting to a post-peak oil world. Is he a repressive and autocratic figure? Sure. Is he turning away a thousand desparately needed doctors because he thinks that politics take priority over the welfare of poor, black people? No, but the US government is.

What Castro, and his friend and ally Hugo Chavez in Venezuela are doing is exposing the violence inherent in our system. They are exposing the real priorities of our hierarchal, capitalist system, as Steve Thomas pointed out in a recent article at Chavez has also showed us a bit of his future plans, with an initial offer to sell cut-rate gasoline to poor Americans, just like he is currently doing around the Carribean.

Are Castro and Chavez's motives any more pure than Bush & Co.? I don't have any reason to think so. What is still relevant is that the aftermath of Katrina will highlight the difference between the Castro/Chavez and Bush camps, regardless of their motives. Perhaps even more interesting will be to watch how the mainstream media covers this, and how that impacts the publics perception of these events--will it be yet another whitewash?

Castro and Chavez are relevant, and a significant threat to Bush, Kerry & Bros. because they represent an alternative. An alternative solution to government, to economics, to peak oil, etc. Do I think that they are necessarily an example that we should adopt? No, but the very existence and visibility of a real alternative is potentially devastating to our system that pretends that our only "choice" is between Republicans and Democrats...