19 December 2002
Spin and Counter-spin
Governance through Terrorism
- / -
Current state of play
Spin and counter-spin
Definition -- through target elimination
Conceptual gerrymandering and definitional game-playing
Terrorism as the failure of dialogue
Emergence of thermobarbaric culture
The unquestioned assumption of governance
Challenge of interpretation: who is spinning when?
This paper was written as the introduction to another on Warp
and Weft: Governance through alternation
and provides the context for an approach
to world governance as a Gandhian challenge for the individual elaborated there
-- that offers alternative understandings of 'governance through
The focus on terrorism as a strategy employed by 'terrorists', and
the response to it by the saviours of 'civilization', has created
a strange environment for the evolution of governance in the 21st century. This
paper explores the implications for the individual faced with the challenge
of interpreting new kinds of messages from 'terrorists' and from government
-- and the implications for world governance.
The strategy of terrorists is to destabilize through terror. Those claimed
to be associated with al-Qaida have been remarkably successful in doing so --
as military history will be obliged to acknowledge. They have claimed to be
acting in support of the underprivileged, notably in Muslim countries, and especially
in Palestine. Similarly the strategy of those engaged in a 'war against
terror' is to use every means to counteract terrorists and to root out
those supporting them in any way. Those claiming to act in defence of 'civilization'
appear to have been quite successful in doing so through their destruction of
the Taliban and their seizure of suspects throughout the world.
The challenge for the individual lies in the ways in which information is being
used in support of such opposing strategies and of the unstated agendas of those
engaged in them. Is the claimed goal of the 'terrorists' as high-minded
as they would want it to be understood to be? Is it indeed in support of the
underprivileged that have, in practice, been so systematically and cynically
neglected in their millions by 'civilization'? Is the claimed goal
of those acting in defence of 'civilization' more than an exercise
in cynical self-interest?
The problem for the individual faced with declarations and acts that purport
to be evidence in support of the strategies of either side is that there is
the strongest case for each to misrepresent the other through whatever means
are possible. The individual is then completely disempowered in relation to
both -- possibly the outcome sought by both.
Current state of play
The hard evidence for 'terrorism' available for all to see is the
destruction of buildings, such as the World Trade Center, and the many tragic
deaths associated with use of missiles and bombs of various kinds. Matching
that is the hard evidence for the strategic response in defence of the 'security'
of 'civilization', as in the change of regime in Afghanistan, the
much heightened level of security associated with public places and transportation,
and the constraints on civil liberties associated with draconian legislation
implemented with unseemly rapidity for democracies.
Difficulties of interpretation start with the current proliferation of alternative
interpretations of the evidence as well as criticism of evidence that could
too easily be planted to favour particular interpretations. Whether all such
interpretations can be dismissed as the conspiracy theories of cranks is a challenge
for the individual, especially if it tends to be suppressed. It is useful to
ask what agendas are supported by encouraging such confusion, by the suppression
of such alternative perspectives, or by the dismissal of those critical of the
evidence as cranks -- or as covert supporters of an opposing strategy.
Whose agenda was really supported by the destruction of the World Trade Center?
Is the evidence against al-Qaida to be taken at face value? How has the traumatic
incident been seized upon by various parties to advance their own interests?
Whose agendas have been marginalized by the 'war on terror'?
- 'Terrorists' reproach the 'civilized' for their cynical
neglect of populations -- and are prepared to kill themselves to draw attention
to that collective condition irrespective of the cost to innocent individuals
- The 'civilized' reproach the 'terrorists' for their
cynical slaughter of innocent individuals -- and are prepared to accept the
destruction of innocent community lives (as collateral damage) in the process
of rooting out such terrorists (and their sympathizers), although any risk
to their own lives in the process is absolutely unacceptable.
A different form of evidence is available from the many 'terrorists'
and 'suspects' that have been seized for interrogation. The difficulty
for the individual is that such evidence is treated as necessarily secret in
order to safeguard interests of national security. Not only is the evidence
obtained under unusual legal conditions without any safeguards for the suspect,
but it is also obtained under extreme duress, notably through the use of torture.
In fact it is rarely known publicly who has been seized, whether they are still
alive, whether they have died under torture, or whether they have been summarily
executed. Information from such sources is claimed to support particular interpretations
of the terrorist threat -- but cannot be challenged in any legitimate way.
The position of governments is that the public should 'trust' them
to be acting in the best public interest despite the lack of any ability to
confirm the conclusions they reach. Tony Blair has made a number of pleas to
that effect -- despite his failure to fulfil his electoral commitment to a Freedom
of Information Act and the extent to which his government is acknowledged to
have relied to a high degree on spin. However at the same time it has been only
too evident that those in governments, such as the USA, UK and Israel, have
other interests to defend. The financial scandals of companies such as Enron,
with which members of the Bush administration had close associations, can only
bias interpretation in favour of conspiracy theories regarding the use of the
'terrorist' threat as camouflage for oil corporation interests in
Central Asia. Indeed, in the case of Iraq, the post-war 'carve up'
of oil resources has been openly discussed in the financial media -- as well
as being used as a threat in support of coalition building in response to 'terrorism'.
Similar points can be made with respect to financial interests in support of
the arms trade that so casually provides 'terrorists' with all the
arms they need. As with the gun policy in the USA, the suppliers of weaponry
are assumed to be totally blameless for any destruction their products cause.
Efforts to justify action in favour of regime change by documenting 'human
rights abuses' in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq also appear suspect
when the governments providing such documentation have been key allies of such
regimes in the recent past -- providing them with both weaponry and training.
According to Amnesty International's secretary-general: 'This selective
attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation
of the work of human rights activists'.
Such efforts are even more suspect when they are used to distract from abuses
in other countries -- leading to the suspicion that 'carbonization credits',
to eliminate dissenters, are issued as part of the process of coalition building
(as in the case of Chechnya
and the Falun Gong). Government news management
may then be legitimately criticized as a 'weapon of mass distraction'.
In this context, how then to interpret efforts by the Bush administration in
February 2002 to create an Office of Strategic Influence with a mandate to provide
misinformation to foreign journalists? The OSI would have been a center for
the creation of propaganda materials, for the stated purpose of misleading enemy
forces or their civilian populations [more].
This initiative was followed in November 2002 by the creation of a Total Information
Awareness initiative to support the 'homeland security' efforts. How
to interpret the fact that the latter is headed by Admiral Poindexter indicted
in the Iran-Contra affair, whilst at the same time Henry Kissinger (wanted in
war crimes investigations in several countries) is appointed by the Bush administration
to investigate unresolved questions surrounding the 9/11 disaster?
The question for the individual is whether he or she believes that government
leaders have a mandate to lie to them in defence of what they (as leaders) define
to be 'national security'? If so, how to determine when they are telling
the truth in relation to such matters? What kind of 'truth' is obtained
as 'evidence' under the levels of scientifically-enhanced interrogation
sanctioned by many modern governments according to Amnesty?
Spin and counter-spin
It is in this context that people have been exposed to a succession of recordings
of Osama bin Laden which may be interpreted in various ways:
- On the assumption that they are genuine:
- confirmation of terrorist actions and intentions as claimed by the coalition
- support for the frustrated underprivileged (especially in the Arab world)
- On the assumption that they are false (and especially if he was dead)
- justification for continuing measures taken in response to terrorism
- sustaining the motivation of terrorist groups
On the question of whether the recordings are genuine or false, it might be
reframed in terms of the resources required to provide reasonably convincing
fakes. Given their poor quality, it might be assumed that any reasonably equipped
drama studio could produce such fakes -- indeed it is surprising that such studios
have not tested their skills in competitions to determine who could produce
the most convincing at least cost. In November 2002, a sound recording of Osama
bin Laden was evaluated by specialized laboratories in one case as fake (with
95% probability) and in another as genuine. Which laboratory is to be trusted
-- and by whom? [more]
This example points to the fact that there are good reasons to release such
recordings from time to time. In the case of the al-Qaida network, the aim would
be to sustain those supporting it. As in the case of the death of dictators,
close associates may see considerable advantage in maintaining the fiction that
the leader is alive for as long as is feasible. In an electronic context such
a fiction could be maintained for an extensive period of time. Advantages for
doing so in a commercial context can be seen in the case of pop-idols. 'New'
recordings of Elivis Presley could continue to be released long after his death
-- especially given the myth that he continues to live, and in order to sustain
In the case of those with strategies designed to oppose such a pro-terror movement,
there are perhaps even more powerful reasons to continue to produce recordings.
The recordings are the only 'hard evidence' for the continued existence
of the al-Qaida network to which the public has been offered access -- as contrasted
with the evidence for the destruction of 9/11. All other evidence is necessarily
classified in the interests of national security. Such recordings are therefore
the best justification for continued funding of more restrictive legislation
and the seizure of suspects. In this sense, the value of Osama bin Laden is
as a propaganda focal point -- a kind of shadowy, negative Uncle Sam -- to focus
the collective attention in support of government strategies. To what extent
is al-Qaida being used as a 'bogey man' to frighten people to accept
constraints on their liberties? Was he 'created' by the CIA for that
How then to determine whether the recordings are fake? But fake or not, who
would believe the evidence one way or the other, if it failed to support their
views. As with Elvis, evidence to the contrary is then readily dismissed, as
with those who may attach importance to it.
In this strange new conceptual world, evidence is necessarily secret. The nature
of reality is proclaimed by fiat. This was in fact a prime characteristic of
the totalitarian world to which the 'free world' was so opposed throughout
the Cold War. Can it be the case that the psycho-social stability of western
'civilization' is dependent in some way on such a totalitarian mind-set
and the need for
evil elsewhere ? With the fall of the Soviet Union as an opponent, has the
west been forced to invoke a surrogate to sustain the coherence of its processes
of governance -- regenerating a lost enemy needed for its coherence? And where
it cannot be invoked externally, has it been obliged to evoke it internally
-- embodying within western society what it most repudiated, creating many of
the constraints on civil liberties that were the reasons for opposing the communist
Definition -- through target elimination
Definition in a world of spirits: It is useful to recognize the evolution
of definition from the period when shamans provided the principal means
of defining the reality of the world -- through their secret understanding of
the magical world of spirits, revealed in trance. This worked provided that
they could offer sufficient evidence to persuade their constituents. Powders
that provided fireworks enhanced their power and gave legitimacy to their world
view. Opposing magicians, and their supporters, could be marginalized by secret
use of poison and accusations of evil doing. Evil was defined by the most powerful
shaman -- who necessarily acquired the opposite characteristic in doing so.
This dynamic continues in many societies, notably in West Africa and in cultures
deriving from it. But to what extent is this different from the behaviour of
charismatic politicians -- particularly those whose spouses attach great significance
to astrology (Reagan) and crystal energies (Blair).
Definition in a religious world: In the subsequent world of organized
priesthoods, definition derived from interpretations of sacred writings
-- interpretations of the Word of God to which only the highest levels of the
priestly hierarchy had access. Priests were the custodians of truth and took
it upon themselves to identify falsehood -- if necessarily torturing ('putting
them to the Question') those who endangered their souls by adhering to
it or challenging the priesthood in any way [more].
It is only on 31st October 1992 that the Pope acknowledged the failure of the
Catholic Church in respect of Galileo's condemnation in 1633 [more].
But the Catholic Church has been extremely challenged in the past decade on
its definition and handling of sexual abuse by the priesthood. It is Christianity
that has played such a primary role in defining the unquestionably 'evil'
nature of the Muslim 'terrorists' -- matched only by the 'satanic'
qualities attributed by some Muslims to Chrsitian 'crusaders'.
Definition in a scientific world: In the scientific conceptual regime
that has followed, definition derives from a particular interpretation of carefully
selected evidence (now obtained by 'putting reality to the question').
Credibility for any such interpretation is limited to academic disciplines
grouping the specially qualified, notably in 'networks of excellence'.
As with priests, some are more qualified than others to make such judgements
-- depending on the 'schools' with which they are associated. As with
shamans and priests, lengthy training is required into arcane secrets articulated
in special jargons meaningful only to the initiated. Truths not defined through
such disciplines are naturally suspect and can be expounded only at risk to
reputation and career. This is justified in terms of the overriding need to
defend 'truth' against 'falsehood' at any cost -- using
astronomical budgets in the sacred task of advancing knowledge of questionable
significance to other than their peers, and arrogating to themselves assessment
of risk (eg nuclear power, genetic modification). Unfortunately, as with rival
shamans and priesthoods, the various disciplines and 'schools' also
remain in warring posture to one another (as indicated by the tardy clarification
of 'unproven links' associated with environmental issues, and the
differing evaluations of the Osama bin Laden recordings).
Definition in an ideological world: The various experiments in communism
(Russia, Cuba, China, Albania, Cambodia) and fascism (Germany, Italy, Spain)
highlighted different ways in which political commissars ensured a particular
definition of reality. The painful consequences have been extensively documented
as well as being explored in movies and plays. The tendencies towards such ideological
definition in western countries have been noted in the case of MCarthyism, the
secular dimensions of fundamentalism, and in manipulative sects (notably those
resulting in collective suicide or necessitating de-programming).
Definition in the world of realpolitik: In contrast to ideology, realpolitik
encourages definition in terms of concrete activity to the advantage of particular
vested interests and to the exclusion of any sensitivity to other interests.
Conceptual boundaries are defined solely to serve and justify the interests
of those who can exert the power to advance them. Considerations that do not
serve such interests are treated as irrelevant. Henry Kissinger is now recognized
as the archetypal contemporary defender of this perspective. It is notably present
in the definition of the challenge to the western world of guaranteeing oil
supplies currently inconveniently controlled by other sovereign countries. The
capacity of the secretive, elitist world of freemasonry to define reality may
be seen as an aspect of realpolitik -- and ensuring the protection of
its members when defined by others as acting illegally. Is this exemplified
by the secretive worlds of the Trilateral Commission, the Club of Rome, etc?
Definition in a mediatised world: The omnipresence of the media in modern
society has ensured that effective definition by the media tends to take precedence
over other modes of definition. This enhances definition by public opinion whether
or not that process can be effectively manipulated to particular ends. Government
leaders increasingly rely on media polls to define issues and their relative
Definition in the intelligence community: The recent past has however
seen increasing prominence given to privileged definition by the 'intelligence
services' on the basis of their particular interpretation of evidence
obtained in secret by secret means and at 'whatever the cost' (assisted
by scientifically enhanced skills of interrogation). The basis for any interpretation
is also secret -- this time in the overriding interests of 'national security'
as they alone are empowered to define it. Only the specially qualified are inducted
into such services and they speak of the knowledge they acquire to the unauthorized
on pain of the severest sanction. Only the intelligence services can determine
who is a 'terrorist' and their understanding cannot be legitimately
challenged in any legal court. Of course the privileged position of secret services
has a lengthy history -- most recently dramatized in the legendary battles between
the CIA and the KGB characterized by complex exercises in disinformation through
which competing, and often fabricated, truths were defined. The nature of their
operations, and the betrayal they evoked between erstwhile friends and colleagues,
is most sadly evident to Germans with access to their Stasi files.
Definition by elimination 'with prejudice': Since 9/11 a new
form of definition has emerged into prominence legitimated by the combined methodologies
of science, supported by the revelatory insights of the monotheistic religious
traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the doctrinal approach of political
ideologues, and emboldened by realpolitik, manipulation of the media,
and the practices of the intelligence services. The conceptual process
of definition has now been streamlined into one of target acquisition and elimination
-- such that any person so eliminated must necessarily have been a 'terrorist'.
It is the receipt of a bullet from a government agent that defines a 'terrorist'.
This is in perfect symmetry with the suicide bomber's process of including all
those killed as necessarily guilty by extension. Such definition admits of no
ambiguity. Those killed must necessarily be defined as within the category of
those whose killing was justified. Such killing is simply conceptual definition
'by other means'. Definition acquires a form of maturity as the 'de-finiting'
process whereby the 'finite' nature of an entity is terminated --
namely rendered unbounded or 'infinite'! Those doing the killing,
as with the witchdoctors, priests, scientists, and James Bond's before them,
are necessarily guilt-free and acting in defence of the highest collective interest.
Given the unique association with the Divine attributed to the governments of
some countries, their agents can only be Agents of Righteousness. Assassination
and death squads have been given new legitimacy as conceptual torch-bearers
in the war on terrorism -- mirroring precisely the worldviews of the assassins
and suicide squads of those they oppose. Might has become right once again --
as evidenced by the impunity of security forces as extensions of the state in
many publicized incidents (jet
destruction of Italian cable car in 1998, trawler
sunk by submarine in 2001, rape cases in Okinawa, etc) .
Curiously this final process of definition is echoed in the use by corporate
decision-makers of what are termed 'presentation graphics', namely
the slides shown in meetings to help define collective strategy. Typically each
slide is characterized by 'bullet points' that define the elements
of the strategy and its 'targets' -- and ensures the elimination of
any competition. One of the most common such tools is 'PowerPoint'.
As in the previous case, it is through the set of 'bullets' that strategic
power is defined and directed. However in this case the bullets are metaphorical
-- and possibly more powerful for that reason [more;
more]. Similarly to some,
and notably in disadvantaged countries, 'missions' (whether for aid,
diplomatic, religious or other purposes) may in fact be experienced in practice
more like 'missiles' (and 'projects' like 'projectiles').
But as with the early framing of the Catholic Church, such initiatives may indeed
be for the higher good of the souls affected -- however painful the experience
imposed upon them [more].
Conceptual gerrymandering and definitional game-playing
The debate on the definition of 'terrorism' has been essentially
terminated following the flurry immediately post 9/11 -- and with the passing
of legislation to deal with any possible suspects, including those dissenting
from 'anti-terrorist' initiatives, and even those capable of providing
The direct support of the US for 'terrorism' in Central and South
America (as long acknowledged there) has been shifted outside the operative
definition. At the local level the systematic terrorizing of individuals in
neighbourhoods and institutions (schools, military, prisons, workplace) -- by
gangs, corrupt security services or others -- is excluded from such definition,
as has the long history of terrorizing of females by males [more].
Also excluded, is the terror deliberately instilled (notably in children) by
Christian preachers regarding the 'hell fire' that awaits any sinners.
The challenge of distinguishing between 'freedom fighters' and 'terrorists'
-- notably those intimately associated with the independence of many countries,
including the USA -- has also been ignored. This is especially curious when
the presidents of a number of such countries have in their time been condemned
It is curious that, to complement efforts to measure human rights and well-being,
no effort has been made to measure terror. This might indeed show that the 'terrorism'
that is the focus of the current 'war against terror' is in practice
constrained to a very narrow time frame in practice, whereas the forms of institutionalized
terror (in marriage, schools, workplace, etc) ignored by that 'war'
may last years or a life time.
This definitional game-playing process may be usefully named as 'conceptual
gerrymandering'. Gerrymandering conventionally describes the deliberate
rearrangement of the boundaries of electoral districts to influence the subsequent
outcome of elections. It works by either concentrating opposition votes into
a few districts to gain more seats for the majority in surrounding districts
(called packing), or to diffuse minority strength across many districts (called
A case can be usefully made that the conceptual boundaries of 'terrorism'
have been deliberately shifted in a similar manner -- to exclude the 'terror'
which so many experience on a daily basis in order to focus on that from which
a few may suffer under exceptional circumstances.
There would seem to be a striking parallel with the manner in which attention
and resources have been systematically shifted to investment in western security
services to respond to the immediate terrorist threat to the few -- and away
from the millions whose disadvantages and injustices breed terrorists so effectively.
The deaths of the millions through starvation or disease have been effectively
reframed as a benefit for the West -- and even in the planet's 'highest
The mindset favouring gerrymandering might also be said to reinforce reframing
of indigenous territorial boundaries by colonialists. Traditional boundaries
get shifted -- most obviously in the extreme case of Native Americans forced
into reservations. A similar process is to be observed in the case of Palestinians
forced out of their traditional settlements by Israelis. Curiously the basis
of the Israeli claim to a traditional right to Palestinian land -- supported
by the USA -- is denied in the case of Native Americans, even though the colonial
peoples had no historical claim equivalent to the Israelis.
Conceptual gerrymandering may also be observed in the approach by governments
to 'nongovernmental' bodies that have so successfully protested government
and multinational 'globalization' initiatives to undermining the determination
of peoples to express their will through democratic process. From being termed
'nongovernmental' -- already a definitional ploy -- they have been
reframed as 'civil society organizations' [more].
This category has subsequently been distinguished from 'nongovernmental'.
At the same time the response to 9/11 has allowed legislative provisions to
be broadened to include those that protest against government initiatives [more**]--
skillfully labelled as 'rejectionists'. However, having lost all the
conceptual and ethical arguments to the 'anti-globalizers', the energetic
popular support for alternative conceptual interpretations now encourages business
lobbies like the Mouvement des Entreprises de France.(MEDEF) to define corporations
opportunistically as the motor of civil society [more**]:
L'entreprise de "refondation sociale" menee par le patronat francais depuis
1999 s'appuie sur la redefinition de termes politiques propres a promouvoir
certains rapports sociaux et a disqualifier toute tentative de contester aussi
bien la legitimite que les effets des politiques economiques neoliberales.
La mobilisation de la notion de "societe civile", qui appartient a des traditions
politiques tres diverses, constitue un exemple privilegie de ce travail d'imposition
d'une vision du monde social conforme aux interets des decideurs economiques,
sous l'impulsion conjointe du MEDEF et de la CFDT. [more]
Conceptual gerrymandering is clearly seen in the opportunistic response to
the threat of terrorism. Because 'any means' can now be used against
'terrorists' according to the UN-supported international coalition,
it is sufficient to define an opponent as a 'terrorist' to acquire
legitimacy for acting savagely against protesters, unconstrained by any consideration
of civil liberties. This has been the case with Robert Mugabe's efforts in Zimbabwe
to define political opponents, including Z student protesters, as 'terrorists'.
There is an ethical dimension to conceptual gerrymandering in the manner in
which boundaries can be shifted to avoid responsibility for problematic situations
and to justify withholding support. This is notably evident in jurisdictional
disputes where the challenge is to ensure that the problem becomes the responsibility
of some other authority. This is most evident in bureaucratic warfare in relation
to loopholes in social safety nets that leave the vulnerable unprotected. It
is most tragic in the case of underprivileged countries to whom care -- cynically
promised in response to starvation, disease and injustice -- is inadequately
extended (or withheld) in practice.
For those seeking solace in religion, notably in the case of the Catholic Church,
the manner in which priests have individually manipulated the truth (in the
process of sexual abuse of those in their care) can fruitfully be explored as
terrorism -- the religious authority of the priest being used to terrorize the
person (including children) into submission: 'I felt that by having this
little bit of intimacy with them that this is what it would be like with Christ'
Such acts have been done over periods of years without any significant preventive
action on the part of a religious hierarchy that has been able to misuse its
own authority to reframe such events as incidental and to accuse the victims
-- whilst being forced to the point of bankruptcy in settling claims out of
on the case of the Cardinal of Boston is particularly striking in this respect.
Given the direct Christian religious involvement in the conflation of Muslims
and terrorists, the process of denial in the handling of sexual abuse merits
It is a tremendous irony that the Catholic hierarchy has been obliged (as a
result of the situation in the USA) to formulate a new approach to the treatment
of evidence regarding the terrorizing of parishioners (and nuns) by Christian
priests and to ensuring due process for those who may have been falsely accused
of sexual abuse [more;
-- whilst simultaneously governments around the world are reframing the treatment
of evidence (notably under pressure from governments of Christian countries),
and by-passing due process in the treatment of those they choose to suspect
of terrorism. This irony is compounded by the worldwide institutionalization
of 'groping' by agents at security checkpoints under conditions which
invite sexual harassment and abuse under intimidating conditions and where any
protest is automatically treated as justification for much more invasive investigation
(strip searching, etc). A further twist is that the sacrosanct confidentiality
of the confessional has been broken, reinforcing questions regarding institutionalized
prurience -- whilst those suspected of terrorism are drawn into making 'confessions'
under conditions in which their intimacy is invaded and abused if they are to
defend themselves, but about which they are prevented from appealing. In both
cases the hierarchies in question give priority to protection of their agents
-- in each case systematically disguising abuse beneath increasingly dubious
claims that they are acting in the public interest.
Another interesting aspect of gerrymandering is associated with the management
of system boundaries which constrain definition in science and its applications.
The many innovations in society have tended to focus on closed systems for
which specific products can be successfully designed and marketed. Unfortunately
the most intractable problems of society can be best understood from that perspective
as open system problems that are not amenable to production of marketable
remedies. Either the problems are then artificially redefined as closed system
problems, which may distort the nature of the system (notably through imposition
of an inappropriate remedy) or they are defined as 'rogue' problems
not susceptible to 'rational' treatment. 'Terrorism' emerges
from an open system context. Closed system governance -- as with security issues
-- is ill-suited to responding to terrorism -- however much conceptual gerrymandering
is attempted. Closed systems might usefully be associated with closed mindedness,
in contrast with the kinds of open mindedness that has proven so significant
in the case of the process of open source software development.
Terrorism as the failure of dialogue
The claims and rationalizations presented by Osama bin Laden for the use of
terrorist practices can be seen as a response to a failure by society to listen
and respond to legitimate concerns regarding the unjust treatment of Muslim
peoples and notably the Palestinians. Following a well-established historical
pattern, these concerns may well be framed as totally 'unreasonable'
as seen through the eyes of westerners or those of non-Muslim persuasion. The
violent terrorist reactions will necessarily be considered as even more 'unreasonable'.
The violent western response to terrorism is however seen as totally reasonable
and justified -- as was always true of colonial territorial claims on indigenous
lands or military intervention in other countries.
In this whole process there is little evidence of efforts at dialogue between
westerners and representatives of the Muslim world concerned for their peoples
-- of which increasing numbers are sub-Saharan. There has of course been dialogue
between westerners and the rulers of those countries who benefit from western
support -- an issue that is part of the problem voiced by Osama bin Laden because
of the manner in which such rulers tend to fail to address the needs of their
peoples. There have of course been reports of brief, unsuccessful secret dialogues
between the USA and the Taliban -- immediately after the inauguration of the
Bush administration. This was of course preceded by years of US contact with
the Afghan resistance to the USSR -- that gave birth to the Taliban.
Religious encounters facilitated by priests have been seen as exemplifying
a vital process of dialogue. However, as indicated earlier, it could usefully
be argued that the relationship between priest and believer has become significantly
distorted in a significant number of institutional environments into a situation
of terror sustained and exploited by the priest. The dialogue with the vulnerable
(presented as being so vital to their spiritual development) is perverted into
one in which, in religious terms, the person's soul is endangered.
The past century has seen emergence of recognition that enlightened governance
requires meaningful dialogue between leaders and people -- exemplified by presidential
'fire-side chats', government consultations, and other processes.
It might however be asked whether governance has not, throughout history and
in many countries today, been characterized by a degree of rule through terror
-- Stalin's Great Terror
of 1937 being an extreme example rather than an exception. Government agents
have been strongly associated with terror. Such terror indeed reflects a failure
of dialogue between government and the people. Saddam Hussein may indeed represent
a most extreme case like Stalin. But to what extent is terror not used by the
security forces in the most democratic western countries to manage populations
where appropriate dialogue has not been elicited -- especially in dealing with
But what is most significant, post 9/11, is the comparison of the total absence
of new investment to enhance the process and quality of dialogue compared with
the exceptionally high investment in innovative security activity and 'new
ways of thinking' in response to a 'new kind of war' -- resulting
from the failure of that dialogue. The 'conference industry'
has proven increasingly successful over past decades in terms of gathering together
people who agree -- there is no corresponding 'difference
industry' for those who differ, despite the extent to which 'making
a difference' is extolled as a life objective. The 'dialogue industry'
has proven increasingly successful in terms of gathering people together for
workshops of many kinds using a multitude of new techniques of facilitation.
The 'negotiation industry' has continued to acquire expertise for
dealing with labour and other conflicts -- associated with a long-standing pattern
of 'diplomatic dialogue'. However very little of this expertise has
proven to be applicable to the case of peoples radically, if not existentially,
opposed to each other's perspectives. Why did Getting
to Yes not work with the Taliban? Where it has been applied, as in the case
of Northern Ireland or the Oslo 'peace process', the results have
been questionable. Undoubtedly some would claim a degree of success, notably
those associated with the Transcend group [more].
But the unresolved challenges to be addressed by such 'radical dialogue'
are all too evident in domestic violence, dysfunctional cross-generational communication,
ethnic violence, violence in institutional settings, and for those who are regularly
threatened with street violence in unprotected settings. Society is extremely
ill-equipped to encounter 'aliens' of any kind [more].
Clearly, once terrorist acts have been initiated, the only effort at 'dialogue'
is through interrogation -- assisted by torture following the tradition of the
Inquisition. In effect the expertise for dialogue with those holding radically
opposed views is now elaborated only in places like the Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and applied in extrajudicial
'dialogue centres' with appropriate facilities such as Camp
X-ray at Guantanamo Bay, or the Lubyanka. Whilst dialogue between moderates
on both sides may continue using techniques with which both are comfortable,
the possibility that rapid innovation and 'new thinking' may be required
to sustain meaningful dialogue between those holding radically opposed views
is not foreseen or considered desirable. Who would want to talk with 'killers'
-- or their 'oppressors'? Their perspective is of course only worth
understanding to the degree that it permits those like them to be eliminated.
Some hold analogous views regarding dialogue with women.
Terrorism, like torture, then becomes a perverted form of dialogue 'by
other means' -- as does the innovative effort applied to its repression.
Intercourse with those holding contrary views is inspired by sexual sadism and
is enhanced by its tools. It becomes the only form of dialogue experienced as
meaningful. What other form is on offer? It is a massive irony of our times
that the global significance of terrorism -- framed by 9/11 as the initiation
of a Global Terrorism Campaign -- should have become evident in 2001 during
the first United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations [more].
Was any initiative ever taken within the UN system to promote the radical dialogue
required of the times? The ultimate perversion of dialogue, sanctioned by UN
Security Council Resolution 1441, may however be the thermobaric weapons that
kill through effectively rendering masses 'voiceless'.
Emergence of thermo-barbaric culture
The mindset reinforcing such failures of dialogue is also evident in the perverted
response to the environment -- the dialogue with Nature. It is only with the
technologies of the 20th century that 'scorched earth' policies have
been seriously implemented. Major examples include Stalin's policy in retreating
from Ukraine before the Germans in 1941 [more],
and Hitler's policy there in the subsequent retreat of the Germans in 1943 [more].
It was proposed as a defensive measure for Canada during World War II [more].
The term has been applied to the forest destruction in Indonesia in 1997 [more],
to the policies on both sides in the Angolan conflict [more],
and to policies in the Sudan [more;
more]. The term was
also employed to describe a Taliban policy when in retreat before the Northern
From an environmental perspective, every war can be seen in such terms [more].
The focus on use of fire in war can be seen as having been pioneered by the
British in the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945 [more;
more]. This formed
part of a terror-bombing strategy against civilian populations developed by
the Allies [more]. The
archetypal event was the bombing of Hiroshima-Nagaski in the same year by the
USA -- followed by decades of nuclear tests. Iraq implemented a dramatic scorched
earth policy in setting light to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells in February 1991.
A new refinement to the use of fire in warfare in the 21st century is the thermobaric
bomb. "Thermobaric" denotes any weapon that creates massive amounts of destructive
overpressure. The principles behind this weapon are not new. Earlier versions
were used in Vietnam and similar weaponry was employed extensively by Russian
forces during the battle for Grozny in Chechnya in 2000. Those used in Afghanistan
by US forces -- and nicknamed 'daisy cutters' -- create a huge pressure
wave over a 4-mile radius which effectively sucks the air out of the lungs of
anyone within range. 11 were used by the US in the Gulf Conflict. There is no
practical difference between nuclear and thermobaric weapons. Both weapons create
similar overpressures, about 10,000 pounds per square foot at ground zero. They
destroy indiscriminately over a wide area, ruin farmland and pose an enormous
threat to civilian populations. And while thermobarics do not create residual
radiation, they do leave behind sizeable amounts of toxic chemicals not burned
off in the blast, which poison civilians and farmland [more].
The US intends to use such weapons in Iraq. The New Zealand peace movement correctly
advocates the alternative term 'thermobarbaric' [more].
The preoccupation with fire as a therapeutic cleansing device has long been
reinforced by images of 'hell fire' and 'burning in hell'
strongly articulated by Christian religions. In these troubled times, according
to Time magazine, the most popular book in the USA in the summer of 2002
was one on the Apocalypse and the Bible, evoking the fiery image of the End
Times of current civilization [more].
The web offers considerable resources in support of this perspective [more].
To what extent does this influence the policy of the Bush administration given
his dependence on support from the Christian right?
In the current Christian right-wing framing of the war against various Muslim
states as a 'crusade' -- a mission from God [more]
-- it is a curious irony that it is a 'General Franks' who is seen
as the probable US military commander of Iraq after 'regime change'
It was the Franks who were a key Christian group, responding to Pope Urban's
appeal for a first Crusade in 1095 that led to the establishment of 'crusader
states' sympathetic to the West. At that time, the term "Franks" was applied
in a general manner to all the inhabitants of Western Europe by Muslims [more].
A contemporary described their initiative as the "Doings of God through the
Franks". In a further irony, the Muslims of that time used weaponry with which
the Franks were not familiar, namely the employment of fire as a 'missile'
Crusades, of which eight are distinguished between 1095 and 1270, in reality
continued through to the seventeenth century [more].
Sultan Al-Kamil delivered Jerusalem to the Emperor Frederick II through peaceful
negotiation in 1229, ending the Sixth Crusade, arousing a storm of indignation
in the Arab world although Frederick was then excommunicated by the Pope for
failure to fulfil his crusading vows for bloody conquest. 1233 saw the institution
of the Inquisition to deal with the Cathars -- effectively spiritual 'terrorists'
-- of which 200 were publicly burnt in 1244. It would seem that similar themes
are to be played out with respect to Iraq and Jerusalem.
In a larger contemporary context it is fruitful to see the emergence of scorched
earth policies and thermobarics as consistent with the mindset supportive of
policies conducive to global warming. As argued elsewhere with regard to the
UN's Global Compact with multinational corporations:
The Global Compact is almost the exact reverse image of that with which many
would argue that the UN should be associated. The more appropriate strategy
might be called a "Lo-Cal" focus. This would place the emphasis on low-energy
(low-calorie) strategies to reduce the environmental footprint of the strategies
currently favoured by multinationals. These could be usefully distinguished
as "Hi-Cal". Globalization in this perspective should be understood as "Hi-calization".
The UN's emerging predilection, shared with multinationals, is -- for what
might by contrast be caricatured as "glo-bal" or "glow-ball" initiatives -
articulated and sustained by endless glowing hype and consumer apathy, ungrounded
in the reality in which people are increasingly obliged to live. Rather than
the promotion of global business (shortly to be severely handicapped by future
oil costs for transportation), why does the UN offer no focus on sustainable
lo-cal initiatives? These would contrast with the unsustainable high-energy
initiatives that are, ironically, causing the planet to "glow" increasingly
(in the infra-red) -- but also have the sinister potential of resulting in
a fiery end to the globe (as predicted by fanatics of the Apocalypse). This
glittering image of globalization has the simplistic appeal of a child's ball
-- illuminated or painted to glow as it is bounced. An image echoed in town
high streets by the unsightly sprawl of illuminated franchise stores - controlled
by glo-bal corporations. [more]
Given the highly disproportionate use of nonrenewable world energy resources
by the USA, and the 'non-negotiable' position taken in defence of
such usage, it might be said that the USA could well go down in history as the
first thermobarbaric culture.
In metaphoric terms however, the information warfare role of thermobaric analogues
could usefully be explored in relation to the destructive use of information
weapons against cultures. Certainly the significance of the 'hot air'
dimension is worth exploring in terms of the hype presented in justification
of particular global policies unrelated to concrete action. The 'baric'
(overpressure) dimension is worth exploring in terms of the propaganda pressure
sought through multinational media control in support of those policies to the
exclusion of alternative perspectives -- from which people might indeed hope
to gain some sustaining 'oxygen'. This thermobarbaric global approach
seems well-designed to destroy any local community.
The unquestioned assumption of governance
Despite the unprecedented slaughter of peoples of other countries undertaken
by governments in the 20th century, the most unquestioned assumption of civilized
democracies is that they would never ever engage in policies destructive of
their own populations. This assumption is at the root of the credibility accorded
to claims made by national intelligence agencies in indicating responsibility
for acts of terrorism: no civilized government would deliberately cause death
to its own citizens. As documented in the study by R.J. Rummel (Death by
Government, 1994), this assumption is highly questionable [text].
It is useful to explore the conditions under which this assumption might well
be false. There are a number of indicators:
- Eugenic programmes: Deliberate eugenic policies were employed in
a number of western countries in the first part of 20th century with regard
to the treatment of citizens who were mentally or physically disabled. The
most extreme were of course those employed in Germany. Selective immigration
policies may also be seen as acting as 'eugenic filters' through
which the gene pool is renewed by those with sufficient vigour to navigate
the hazards of asylum seeking. Capital punishment may also be usefully seen
in this light as the removal of undesirables from the gene pool.
- Indigenous populations: The savage treatment of native populations
by most colonial powers has been extensively documented (eg the Amritsar massacre
of 1919). In the past century this also extended to minorities such as blacks.
- Treatment of civil unrest: Increasingly innovation in weaponry has
been designed to handle internal threats of social unrest, rather than external
attack. The pattern and extent of 'disappearances' under dictatorships
has been widely publicized [more].
The degree to which this pattern is emerging in relation to seizure (and termination)
of suspects under anti-terrorist legislation is only now becoming apparent.
The case of Chechnya
(300,000 dead) is an extreme example [more]
in a country allied with the USA in the 'war against terrorism'.
- Potentially fatal experiments on citizens: Experimentation with fatal
consequences on citizens (especially prisoners or military) has been undertaken
in a number of western countries notably with respect to testing for nuclear,
chemical and biological warfare [more].
It is unclear to what degree such experiments continue to be undertaken with
respect to new forms of drug.
- Acceptable collateral damage in dealing with other threats: It is
accepted that some people may be killed during the response to a threat (eg
the role of SWAT teams, the Moscow theatre hostage situation of 2002). Massacres
may be undertaken as an example to impose order on a population (as in Russia
and China in the 20th century). Conspiracy theorists speculate on the willingness
of governments to sacrifice their own nationals in airplane 'accidents'
in order to eliminate opponents.
- Political assassination: The complicity of parts of government, or
its agencies, in assassination is frequently explored in the case of high
profile assassinations (the Kennedys, Martin Luther King) and suspect accidents
(Princess Diana, US Senator Paul Wellstone, etc). 'Death squads',
as documented by Amnesty, have been used by governments of a number of countries
against their citizens. Efforts have been made, notably in the USA, to document
the manner in which executives of major corporations have occasionally used
'dirty tricks' to eliminate opponents and critics, especially from
labour and environmental movements. To what extent does this mindset influence
such executives when they take up roles in executive government?
- Fatal negligence: The complicity of parts of government, or its agencies,
in negligence with fatal consequences has been raised in the case of health
issues (smoking, asbestos, hormones in food, etc). The question may be raised
with respect to the treatment of the elderly (heating, health care).The imposition
of genetically modified food on populations by their governments (notably
when blackmailed by a threat of starvation) may be seen by historians in this
light -- especially if such innovations give rise to the genetic equivalents
of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
- Irresponsible acts of warfare: It has been argued that some forms
of warfare, and the manner in which people are sent to their death (notably
in the trench-warfare of World War I), raise questions as to the degree to
which such initiatives are undertaken with the deliberate intention of causing
loss of life to the country's own population
- Deliberate malnourishment: The neglect by countries of the adequacy
of food made available to their populations has resulted in serious malnourishment,
even in western countries, and even in mass starvation (as in the Ukraine,
or in Ireland in the 19th century). Deliberately withholding assistance can
also be fatal.
- Failure to act on warnings: Governments are often dismissive of warnings
regarding imminent threats relating to the environment, notably those associated
with global warming. Most concretely this is evident in allowing construction
in flood plains but also it relates to various health hazards (smoking, etc)
and warnings of impending famine.
The ability of government to justify such action against citizens arises in
part from what was earlier termed conceptual gerrymandering. It is the ability
to marginalize certain parts of society -- converting a portion of 'us'
into 'them'. Once this transformation is achieved, the logic of action
by 'us' against 'them' becomes quite obvious. It is this
same process that converts 'humans' into 'sub-humans' or
'animals' -- to which the adjective 'evil' may be readily
attached. It is this process which also cuts 'humans' out of an ecosystem
that includes other species -- enabling the 'non-human' environment
to be treated 'in-humanely' without concern. Extraterrestrials should
be warned of this tendency -- although they might either share it in their approach
to humans, or consider it a pattern that humans find appropriate.
The question is the extent to which these policies are deliberately undertaken
against citizens, through the action or inaction of any part of their government
-- or are only implemented by default. These issues have bred many conspiracy
theories. They notably raise issues regarding the kind of government agency
that might be empowered to undertake them, or allow them to be implemented through
surrogates. The origin of AIDS has been explored from this perspective. Numerous
Hollywood movies have explored the possible existence of secretive rogue agencies,
and rogue government agents, acting in this way -- whether according to their
privileged understanding of 'national security' or in support of a
particular political agenda. Has development of American culture needed to articulate
scenarios and scripts that evoke this pattern -- whether or not the movies were
partially funded by the CIA? How is their existence to be determined and how
are denials of their existence to be assessed? Qui custodiet custodies?
Many of these indicators suggest the existence of secret policies whose existence
it is difficult to prove or disprove. This uncertainty gives weight to suspicions
which may be totally unfounded but which it would be naive to discount. What
credibility or probability is then to be accorded to the claim of conspiracy
theorists that it was not 'terrorists' who were responsible for 9/11
but some rogue western government group? Who could prove this hypothesis to
be false -- and to whom?
In metaphoric and symbolic terms these indicators raise the question of whether
countries and cultures are capable of a form of self-mutilation -- perhaps framed
as a collective equivalent of body piercing. There are indeed those who cultivate
mindsets so critical of their own collective self-image that they would seek
to do damage to that collective. This has been evident in the position of some
anarchists. It was also evident in the case of the Oklahoma bombing. Is the
mindset reinforcing American patterns of over-consumption associated with other
self-image-related 'eating disorders' analogous to bulimia and anorexia?
Again, in symbolic terms as with the Ourobouros,
is a dysfunctional culture eventually forced to bite its own tail? But perhaps
it can be argued that one definition of governance includes precisely the mandate
and capacity to do so.
Challenge of interpretation: who is spinning when?
Much is currently made of the difficulties of the intelligence services in
sifting through the huge volume of 'intelligence' regarding potential
threats. Such services have to strike a balance between responding prematurely
(and inappropriately) on the basis of indicative data and allowing terrorist
actions to occur for lack of hard information. A case is increasingly made for
pre-emptive action whether or not it is associated with abuse of the civil rights
articulated in many international conventions. To sustain the intelligence stream
it becomes necessary to classify sources -- leading to a situation in which
any action can be taken providing its rationale can be cloaked under 'national
At a more familiar level, many citizens have now been exposed to cases of investigation
into police tampering with evidence, or fabricating it. Significant numbers
claim to have been 'framed' or 'fitted up'. Police may even
justify such initiatives when they lack hard evidence and they 'know'
that the suspect is guilty. To what extent will some UN inspectors in Iraq be
tempted to fabricate evidence -- or be presented with evidence that has been
fabricated? By what means might such evidence be brought into the country by
interested parties as part of the inspection process? Will Iraq be 'framed'
-- notably after the opportunity, offered to the USA by the UN to 'copy'
the 12,000 page declaration, provided by Iraq in December 2002? Who will be
able to prove that they have not been framed and on the basis of what 'evidence'?
Given the repeated assertion by the USA that it has evidence to prove that
Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, although unwilling to publicize it or
provide it to the UN, it is a curious irony that Tony Blair (who shares that
belief) was faced on 12th December 2002 with a need to make a statement to defend
his wife's highly controversial handling of an apartment purchase:
Let me very blunt with you. If anyone has any evidence at all -- I mean real
evidence -- of anything criminal, illegal or improper they should give that
evidence to the appropriate authorities. I say this with very great respect:
I think everyone's had their pound of flesh and now it's time to move on (Guardian,
13 December 2002)
How different would be the world's view of Tony Blair if he addressed those
words to George Bush? It is unfortunate that responsible countries, including
the permanent members of the UN Security Council, are now completely unable
to provide hard evidence to prove that they themselves are not deeply implicated
in the most heinous activities.
Ordinary citizens are faced with an equivalent problem of how to determine
when to give credibility to whom. This is a problem with which citizens of totalitarian
countries have long been familiar. It is an historical irony that the 'free
world' has recreated this environment in its own defence. Unfortunately
it is precisely this justification that has been used in the past by totalitarian
dictatorships in defence of their own regimes -- an argument deplored by the
'free world' at the time.
Maggie O'Kane (Guardian 5 Dec 2002), a journalist active during the
Gulf War, describes two glaring examples of the use of propaganda to support
the allied attack then -- as a means of raising questions about how similar
propaganda might now be used to support an attack on Iraq. Just prior to the
war the Pentagon insisted, on the basis of satellite photo 'evidence',
that Iraq had 265,000 troops poised to attack Saudi Arabia -- successfully silencing
the waverers and anti-war protesters. Photographs from Russian satellites purchased
by an American journalist at the time showed no such massing of troops. What
might fake satellite photographs be used to demonstrate in 2002? The second
propaganda example from 1991 was the 'eye witness' report of babies
being torn by Iraqis from hospital incubators in Kuwait and left to die on the
floor. This planted story successfully duped Amnesty and others -- and successfully
convinced hesitant US congressmen to vote for war. It was repeatedly used as
a theme by George Bush Sr months before the truth emerged after the war [more].
She asks how consensus will be manufactured in 2002.
In the 'war against terror' government spin doctors must manage the
news such that the negative stereotyping of 'terrorists' becomes (and
remains) credible. Unfortunately they are only able to do this by imposing a
degree of 'voluntary' censorship on the media and through the suppression
and marginalization of dissenting voices. More unfortunately, as with bad advertising
for bad products, is that the quality of public information and public discourse
is perceptibly and significantly degraded by this process. When the vice-presidency
of a country is directly associated with systematic efforts to silence and harass
dissenting academic voices in a democracy, its citizens are forced into a mode
long known to citizens of totalitarian countries. What values are incarnated
by an intellectual establishment when dissenters are reduced to intercourse
in private between consenting adults -- and are publicly acknowledged by forging
('spoofing') their electronic identities to frame them as a source
of porn and hate mail?
But the curious feature of this situation is that coalition propagandists must
necessarily be telling the truth some of the time. The problem for the individual
on the receiving end, as when faced with a snake oil salesman, is how to determine
when this is the case. As in the traditional tale, how many times can the little
boy cry 'wolf' -- to see the people scurry -- before they cease to
scurry and end up losing their sheep to a real wolf? In this respect, historians
may be amused by the fact that the most extreme hawk in the US administration
is currently Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and formerly a
professor of international relations..
Equally curious is that this condition of public fear and uncertainty may well
be precisely a feature of the agenda of those in the coalition who seek to benefit
through subterfuge from a panicked population that welcomes 'necessary'
constraints on its civil liberties. More curious is that this condition of collective
fear is a prime objective of 'terrorists' -- as explicitly indicated
by Osama bin Laden. In this way, those opposing terrorism themselves become
surrogates of the terrorists -- an irony when the reverse was previously
the case (as with US financing of Osama bin Laden to oppose the Russians).
The individual is then forced into a curious conceptual space where the
credibility of 'terrorists' and those 'fighting for freedom'
of civilization is equally difficult to assess -- since each is using the
tools of the other, however much they may repeatedly claim to be morally incomparable.
This becomes especially regrettable when on human rights grounds the individual
may have every reason to deplore Saddam Hussein -- whilst in terms of its hypocrisy,
double-standards, manipulation of information, repression of dissent, and torture
of dissenters, there may be equivalent reasons to deplore governments which
oppose him and which are normally held to much higher standards. The best can
no longer provide credible evidence to differentiate themselves from the worst.
Should the unsavoury be deplored to a greater degree than champions of liberty
who degrade themselves into acting with the same methods as the unsavoury and
to questionable ends -- whilst vigorously claiming moral superiority, denying
their improbity and ensuring that their impunity is guaranteed?
Why the need for so much security classification of information and for such
long periods? Is it the case that the social project of the past century has
been designed to sustain a kind of Potemkin society [more]
-- richly decorated by the international declarations, charters, conventions
and resolutions concerning every aspect of human activity, and sustained by
very selective media presentations? To what extent are these devices primarily
designed to paper over the cracks and disguise the extent to which any remedial
action is token or purely symbolic -- as repeatedly demonstrated by the broken
policy promises (Afghanistan, Africa, Palestine, etc)?
A powerful example, presumably typical of many others currently classified,
is the case of the secret group of developed nations that conspired to limit
the effectiveness of the UN's first conference on the environment (Stockholm,
1972). The existence of this cabal, known as the Brussels group, was revealed
British government records that were kept secret until January 2002 (under a
30-year rule). The Stockholm conference was set up in response to rising concern
about damage to the environment. It ended with a ringing declaration of the
need to protect the natural world, and the UN Environment Programme was set
up as a result. Its programme was held in check by the activities of the Brussels
group, which included Britain, the US, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands
and France [more].
Is it any wonder that the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg,
2002) was a disaster? What other such secret agreements are yet to be revealed?
Challenged by this dilemma, both 'terrorists' and those opposing
them can take dramatic steps to focus peoples attention. For both of them 'any
means' need to be considered -- however they choose to hype and legitimate
For terrorists, the occasional use of bombs and other devices is a characteristic
means of focussing public attention on their concerns. But the challenge for
their opponents, in the absence of unclassified hard evidence is, most ironically,
also to use such devices (but secretly) -- and immediately to claim the result
to be hard evidence in support of their restrictive measures against such terrorist
activity. For, in the absence of credible evidence, the most effective means
of focussing public support is judiciously to plant the occasional bomb or 'specific
threats' -- or even fake assassination attempts -- in support of the unpublishable
intelligence information. Given the questionable basis for the 'unquestioned
assumption' (above), the hard men of government would need no encouragement
to act secretly in this way in the overriding interest of 'national security'
and 'western civilization' -- however regrettable the collateral damage.
Some conspiracy theorists see the origins of 9/11 in these terms.
Both sides can then take advantage of any incident causing loss of life or
destruction of property to advance their cause. Comics are already joking that
any accident is now the responsibility of 'al-Qaida' (or its supporters).
Representatives of 'al-Qaida', real or wannabe, can claim it to be
so -- and representatives of coalition governments (in the light of their classified
'intelligence') can freely assert that it is so. This provides an
ideal escape clause for a struggling insurance industry which can then frame
such incidents with 'Acts of God' as beyond their remit!
Any experience of herding cattle or sheep provides insights into how a large
population can be 'managed' using similar techniques with very little
manpower -- a vital challenge in governance. Children in Africa do it all the
time -- as do cowboys in various cultures. It may inspire insights into more
cost-effective processes of governance that avoid the 'inefficiencies'
of democratic processes: party politics and funding, gaining visibility, costly
media time, public appeals, horsetrading, and coalition building. As in stock-herding,
it is sufficient to create (or fake) threats with a rock, a stick, a whip, or
other noisemaker -- real bullets are not needed for the cowboy's gun once the
lesson has been learnt through a few judicious and highly visible examples.
Essentially the art is to terrorize the cattle into moving as required in a
condition of controlled panic.
Is instilling such panic to be the basis of governance in the future? However,
reminiscent of government preoccupation with 'avoiding public panic',
the web now offers insights into the merit of newly discovered 'low-stress
techniques of cattle herding' that are conducive to higher quality animal
products [more; more].
One such source even makes the extraordinary challenge to students of comparing
the cattle to Jews and the cowboys to Nazis [more].
Another points to the challenges of religious leaders in shepherding their flocks.
Threatening believers with 'hell fire' is of course a standard technique
of Christian preachers in maintaining control over their flocks. Are there government
leaders that are likely to be inspired by both religious and cowboy metaphors?
How then to determine which threats and bombs are planted by terrorists and
which by agents of government through a chain of deniable responsibility? Does
it make any difference to the individual?
[See counterpart to this perspective in Warp
and Weft: Governance through alternation, namely an approach to world
governance as a Gandhian challenge for the individual]
- Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: Strategy
of choice for world governance. 2002 [text]
- The "Dark Riders" of Social Change: a challenge for any Fellowship
of the Ring. 2002 [text]
- Warping the Judgement of Dissenting Opinion: towards a general
framework for comparing distortion in rules. 2002 [text]
- Globalization within a Global Potemkin Society. 2000 [text]
- Coherent policy-making beyond the information barrier. 1999
- Songlines of the noosphere: global configuration of hypertext
pathways. 1996 [text]
- Participative Democracy vs. Participative Drama: lessons on
social transformation for international organizations from Gorbachev. 1991
R.J. Rummel. Death by Government. New Brunswick NJ, Transaction Publishers,