Thursday, April 18, 2013

After Boston: Taxonomy of Political Conflict

When a nation state has a problem with another state, a problem that can't be resolved by diplomacy, it cranks up the printing press and goes to war.  That we understand.  But what about lower-level disagreements?

For instance, what about guerrilla movements?  Here you have an armed group dedicated to the overthrow of an existing government.  But a non-state actor like a guerrilla group cannot go head to head against a government in a full-scale war, so it must fight an "asymmetric" war, making life difficult for the government with raids on government facilities and enticing the people to withdraw support from a government that can't keep the peace.  Of course, very often a guerrilla group is financed by a state.  In fact, it is likely that very few guerrilla groups can survive without some sort of support from a state that wants to stir up trouble.

Then there are simple terror groups, that don't have the finance or the popular support to hide out in the country and maintain a permanent force under arms.  These groups are still groups with political agendas, but without the means or the ambition to conduct a full-scale guerrilla campaign. They really got going in that late 19th century when the combination of explosives and modern publicity made it possible to kill one person and frighten a million.  But you gotta give them credit.  You can really lower the prestige of a government with some well-placed bombs.  Maybe you can get the government to spend trillions of money for little return, like the US in the years after 9-11.

Then there's the lone wolf copycatting the terror conspiracies.  Perhaps Major Nidal Malik Hassan, the Fort Hood bomber, comes into that category.  A man is inspired to imitate others, and does so.

But let's not forget the left-wing activist group.  It is the cadre group representing itself as a spontaneous uprising of the people.  It is a political tradition of "peaceful protest" designed to project the impression in the media that injustice is abroad in the land and that helpless victims need relief.  The left-wing activist group is seldom popular, but achieves notoriety and momentum for its agenda through media facilitation.

Then we have the popular movement like the Tea Party that represents a genuine stirring in the people, and that moves fairly quickly to influence electoral politics.

Lastly we have the "mentally ill" single shooter, who doesn't have a political strategy, but just wants the notoriety of a bloody deed.

Everyone from the president on down is stigmatizing the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing as cowardly and cynical.  No doubt they are right.

But all opponents of a political regime face the same problem.  They want to replace the government.  Government, let us not forget, is force, and politics is division.  So any political actor that wants to replace the current regime of force must follow a strategy of division that ends up with his group taking over the levers of force and coercion.  Until the day of the final victory, he must divide the people from the government.

Clearly, this strategy of division must usually include creating the notion that the government has lost control and cannot keep the peace.  At the state level, this allows the opponents of the regime to rail about the waste of war.  At the guerrilla level they rail about the inability of the government to control its own territory.  At the terror bomb level, they demonstrate the inability of the government to protect people on the street from cowardly murderers.  At the left-wing protest level, people rail about the continuing stain of injustice.

At each level of insurrection, the actors are using the weapons that they believe are most effective for them, given the political and financial assets at hand, to make their point and delegitimize the government.

Force is force, and division is division.  Sometimes bloody deeds succeed; sometimes they don't.

But if you ask me, I'd say that far too many people think that they can improve life for themselves and the world through politics.   For the vast majority of people, the best way to improve life for themselves is to follow the advice of Rupert Murdoch and "produce something that other people are willing to pay for."

Maybe, if you do that, you can be a part of the movement that has got people in the United States from $3 per day in 1800 to a life of $120 per day right now.

That would be making a difference.

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