28th October 2009 | Draft
Transforming the Unsustainable Cost of General Education
Strategic insights from Afghanistan
- / -
Indicative human costs of general education
Varieties of general education
Possible transformative reframings of general education
Achieving effective presence in Afghanistan through strategic absence
Produced on the occasion of a new review of the strategy of the multinational
coalition in Afghanistan, notably in the light of the request by
General Stanley A. McChrystal for an additional 40,000 troops.
The military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially the latter, highlight
valuable questions about the cost of general education and the time apparently
required for useful results to be achieved. The learnings from these experiences
raise even more valuable questions regarding any general global strategy encompassing
the full spectrum of crises that characterize the times and the challenges
of the 21st century. These would appear to merit urgent attention in the light
of a previous argument (We
Are on the Brink of Failure in Responding to Global Crises, 2009)
which endeavours to makes use of Afghanistan as a strategic metaphor.
In a report by The Economist (The
War in Afghanistan, 17 October
2009) with reference to the tours of commanders there, it is noted that: The
Afghan conflict, it is often said, has not been an eight-year war, but eight
one-year wars. The best initiatives, it is claimed, are too often dropped
when the best commanders end their tours. It remains unclear whether the length
of the educational tour is too short or whether there is a subsequent failure
to integrate individual insights into collective military learning.
It might similarly be argued that an eight year military campaign has been
of questionable effectiveness in general education of the public, whether
in the USA or amongst its allies in the International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Given the declared ambition to "spread
democracy" it is equally unclear how effective has been the programme
of general education of the Afghan population or their neighbours -- especially
in the light of the level of fraud in the democratic election extensively supported
by the USA and its ISAF allies there.
The question explored here is the adequacy of the approach to general education
and whether, as currently conceived, its costs are inherently undesirable or
unsustainable. In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, it was argued
that the inequality created by huge bankers salaries is a price worth paying
for greater prosperity (Public
must learn to 'tolerate the inequality' of bonuses, says Goldman Sachs vice-chairman, The
Guardian, 22 October 2009). This is reminiscent of the tolerance expected
by a US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine
Albright, when questioned on whether the sanctions against Iraq (killing
more children than at Hiroshima) were appropriate. Albright replied: "I
think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price
is worth it." (We
Think the Price is Worth It, Fair, 2001).
Of much greater interest however are the insights from the above of
relevance to the challenge of generality in contrast with specificity -- in
a global context. In that systemic context disciplines, development programmes,
and strategic initiatives of any kind, are all essentially specialized in nature
and indifferent to consequences beyond their focus. Claims of multidisciplinary
approaches tend to be of a token nature or are revelatory of the
asystemic manner in which they are conceived and implemented in practice.
Major intergovernmentsal "systems", such as those of the United Nations
or the European Union, are systemic only in an administrative sense with very
little facility for inter-sectoral coordination on substantive matters (other
than to mitigate budgetary competitiveness). There is little sense from within
such systems of the relevance of preoccupations beyond their administrative
The mindset is reinforced within academic environments, fragmented
as they are into "faculties" with little concern as to how disparate
intellectual faculties call for cognitive integration -- again, other than
in an administrative sense. "Interdisciplinarity" and "transdisciplinarity" are
viewed with disdain. So-called "general studies" have not engendered
the requisite cross-fertilization essential for appropriate global governance.
The educational value of "management
schools" and "schools of business administration" has notably
been called into question by the implication of their graduates in engendering
the financial crisis of 2008.
Outside such frameworks much is made of the need for appropriate leadership
-- as the keystone to operational generality -- and many programmes are designed
to that end, notably in military academies. But, as with the education of generals,
it is quite unclear that leaders of the quality required for the foreseen challenges
of global governance are emerging. Those that do emerge as national and international
leaders are as likely to be suspected or indicted for malfeasance as not, as
the case of Tony Blair has so admirably indicated (Urgent
Need for Blair as President of Europe, 2009).
Indicative human costs of general education
Wikipedia provides various lists of potential relevance
to this argument, notably a List
of events named massacres, various Lists
of disasters and a List of battles by casualties. The List
of wars and disasters by death toll includes the following:
||Lowest death estimate
||Highest death estimate
The data on Iraqi casualties in the Iraq conflict since the intervention in
March 2003 is highly controversial [see Wikipedia Casualties
of the Iraq War]. Estimates
range from approximately 100,000 to 1,300,000 [Just
2009]. In December 2007, the Iraqi government reported that there were 5 million
Iraq. Typically there is little if any information available on the number
of wounded or their degree of incapacitation.
In the case of Afghanistan, data is again highly controversial with no overall
total presented [see Wikipedia Civilian
casualties of the War in Afghanistan (2001-present)].
As reported in Wikipedia, the death toll in Iraq within the multinational
coalition numbered 4,667 in October 2009. In Afghanistan the coalition
toll was 1,492 in October 2009, with that of the Afghan security forces
at 5,164 [see Wikipedia List
of Afghan security forces fatality reports in Afghanistan].
With respect to the troop increase of 40,000 in Afghanistan, requested by
General McChrystal at the time of writing, Nicholas
D. Kristof (More
Schools, Not Troops, New York Times, 28 October 2009) notes
- For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one
year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.
- ...for the cost of 40,000 troops over a few years -- well, we could
just about turn every Afghan into a Ph.D.
- ... there is still vast scope for greater investment in education, health
and agriculture in Afghanistan. These are extraordinarily cheap and have
a better record at stabilizing societies than military solutions, which,
in fact, have a pretty dismal record.
- For roughly the same cost as stationing 40,000 troops in Afghanistan for
one year, we could educate the great majority of the 75 million children
worldwide who, according to Unicef, are not getting even a primary education.
Varieties of general education
General education: These various estimates are presented
to focus attention on the possibility of an indicator
that is as yet unavailable, namely the body count associated with the education
of each general. Obtaining
this figure calls for breaking down the figures in relation to the period of
tour of duty of each general in command. This would open a realistic discussion
of the number of bodies required to educate a general, appropriately distinguishing
between "our guys", their civilians, and the "bad guys" -- since for a given
degree of education the number of bodies required in each case would be completely
Also of interest would then be the degree of learning achieved after
1,000 bodies, 10,000, 100,000, etc. What "extracurricular" degrees of learning
can a general derive from increases in the body count? Is it the case that
despite any such experience, a general may still need to "repeat" an educational
tour in order to "get it" and pass on to the next learning challenge? In this
respect it would be useful to compare the optimistic statements of each general
commanding the multinational coalition in Afghanistan on taking command and
on termination of the tour.
Given the extent of investment in military game simulations of conflict, it
is also of potential interest to what extent generals are required to clock
up a bodycount of hits in such contexts and how their learning progressively
develops with that number. More controversial is the extent to which generals
are exposed to video coverage of the "blood and gore" of those actually
killed, dismembered or wounded, as part of that education -- especially given
the availability of footage of enhanced interrogation of any prior induced
suffering. To what degree do generals need to be trained to violence and its
Curiously, following such education, a general is typically endowed with
value-charged medals indicating his or her prowess -- effectively the degree
of learning attained. It would be appropriate to use any such indicator to
establish a correlation between each such medal and the body count associated
with its attribution -- possibly with appended coloured "bars" to distinguish
between the number of deaths of "our guys", civilians, and the "bad guys" (responsibility
for enhanced interrogation is a challenging special case). A "full chest"
of medals is necessarily an indicator of great learning, to be appropriately
honoured, and it would be useful to enrich the display with the human cost
that enabled it.
Education of the general public: The political will to sustain
intervention by the multinational coalitions in Iraq and in Afghanistan depends
on the education of the public -- as the Vietnam War made only too clear.
The respective body counts in those conflicts need to be appropriately confronted
with the number of voters sustaining their support -- in order to provide an
indicator of the body counts necessary to convince voters of the merit of continuing.
Clearly a distinction has to be made in producing such indicators between a
body count for armed force personnel of the voters' country and that for the
The question is what is the tipping point in each case.
What is the acceptability of 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 foreign civilian deaths?
The question is of course pertinent to deaths arising from structural violence
rather than physical violence, since such numbers are currently commonplace
and expected to become even more dramatic. As noted above, presumably speaking
for the population of the USA, the cost of starving to death 500,000 children
was considered in political terms to be "worth it".
Further indicators may be developed in relation to those wounded, returning
as veterans, possibly severely disabled. Especially important in this respect
are those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, potentially creating
severe problems in their families and neighbourhoods -- given their trained
propensity to violence. The re-integration of veterans is in this respect a
major source of general education. Again the question arises as to what numbers
can be effectively re-integrated in this way and what are the collective learning
stages engendered by particular proportions of veterans so affected? Also of
relevance is the rate in which such collective learning is lost through erosion
of collective memory (Societal
Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory: a critique of the Club of Rome
Report: No Limits to Learning, 1980).
General systems education: Conflict is enabled through the
manner in which relationships are framed by a variety of disciplines and belief
systems. In a sense the conflict is engendered and sustained within any such
"model". As noted above, typically each such cognitive modality develops and
promotes its own model and strives to ensure its dominance in any resource
allocation process. Efforts at general systems education are few and far between
Education and the relevance of world system data banks and the Inter-Contact
technique, 1969). Various initiatives, notably with "blue planet"
as part of their title, offer insights into environmental systems, especially
from a water perspective. For example the acclaimed Blue
Planet role-playing game offers
extensive insights into environmental science with some insights into political
systems. Few initiatives endeavour to offer insights into the full range of
natural and psychosocial systems -- with their interrelationships and
Given the highly impoverished relationships between such
models, the emergent framework is notably significant in terms of its degree
incoherence and inconsistency. It is from such a context that policy think-tanks
derive their insights in guiding strategic thinking, and notably engagement
in conflict ("Tank-thoughts" from "Think-tanks":
metaphors constraining development of global governance, 2003; Meta-challenges
of the Future for Networking through Think-tanks, 2005).
It is increasingly acknowledged that the "tunnel vision" and silo
thinking engendered by fragmented cognitive modalities are proving dangerously
inadequate to strategic governance -- of which conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan
are but examples, tragically highlighted by the total inaction in relation
to other "conflicts", better described as massacres (e.g. Cambodia,
Dafur, Eastern Congo). Examples of equivalent systemic negligence are however
evident with respect to other issues typically considered aystemically in isolation
by institutions claiming exclusive mandates: food, environment, marine resources,
energy, etc. Extreme pressures obliging any attempt at inter-sectoral and
inter-disciplinary thinking then typically engender dangerously simplistic
forms of groupthink, as evident in the case of the weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq (Groupthink:
the Search for Archaeoraptor as a Metaphoric Tale -- missing the link between "freedom
fighters" and "terrorists", 2002).
In the light of this argument regarding general education, the question is
how many deaths, of whatever cause, are required to ensure
that a system boundary is enlarged to include other factors. More
simply put, what is the body count tipping point for a cognitive modality to
acknowledge its wider social responsibility and the need for it to relate its
methodology with other disciplines? More pertinent is the number of bodies
required for it to move beyond using any deaths as a means of calling for further
investment in its own approach -- as is typical of the pharmaceutical industry.
Again, how many deaths are required to engender what degree of interdisciplinarity
and intersectoral coordination? At what point does this emerge from tokenism
to engendering genuinely new strategic responses of any relevance? A useful
framing of the challenge in humorous terms is the analysis by John Gall (Systemantics;
how systems work... and especially how they fail, 1978), reframed in a
separate commentary (Why
Systems Fail and Problems Sprout Anew, 1980). In terms of faith-based
governance and the expectation of a forthcoming "end-times"
collapse, the challenge of systemic negligence may be presented in more symbolic
Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence,
2004). More sober analyses are offered by:
A. Cerulo. Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning
the worst. University of Chicago Press, 2006
- Jared M. Diamond.
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. Penguin, 2005
- Thomas Homer-Dixon.
The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization.
Island Press, 2006
- Donald N. Michael.
On Learning to Plan - And Planning to Learn. Miles River Press, 1997
- Paul Ormerod. Why
Most Things Fail: evolution, extinction and economics. Wiley; 2005 [extracts].
- Joshua Cooper Ramo. The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder
Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It. Little, Brown and Company,
- Nassim Nicholas
Taleb. The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable. Random
House, 2007 [contents]
- John Ralston Saul.
The Unconscious Civilization. Free Press, 1995
More dramatically the question might be asked whether unconsciously the current
global civilization has a need for human blood, for reasons similar to those
of cultures and civilizations of the past. Blood as the source of life, is central
to many religions (notably Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and medicine. Blood
has been the basis for many oaths and contracts. Throughout history the many
liquid substances (milk, honey and wine) offered in sacrifice to the dead,
to spirits and to gods, were symbols of blood. Sacrificial blood was itself
obtained from animals in classical times, and from human sacrifice among Asians,
Africans, aboriginal Americans, and from prehistoric Europeans. [more]
Modern societies appear to require "human
before legislative changes are considered necessary: children have to die before
dangerous foodstuffs are prohibited by law, and demonstrators have to be willing
to suffer, or lose their lives, before their cause receives attention. More
controversially is the extent to which the policies of the Abrahamic religions
regarding unchecked procreation should be understood as a dramatic example
of neglect of vital systemic boundaries (Johan Rockstrom, Will
Steffen, et al., Planetary
Boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity, 2009).
Should the current and expected deaths be understood as a curious form of
deliberate human sacrifice on the altars of their beliefs? (Root
Irresponsibility for Major World Problems: the unexamined role of Abrahamic
faiths in sustaining unrestrained population growth, 2007)
question is whether global civilization has an unacknowledged
need for a high order of human sacrifice, ironically following the much deprecated
pattern of the Aztecs -- even to the point of representing a pyramid on the
main global currency on which the livelihoods of so many have recently been
sacrificed. Should any "battle for hearts and minds" be considered from this
How many such sacrifices are required to engender an approach to curtail the
systemic negligence which currently requires them?
Possible transformative reframings of general education
The question here is whether the framing of current initiatives and preoccupations
can be fruitfully transformed by approaching them in a new light as previously
the Encounter with Terrorism, 2002). there it was suggested that an
alternative framing could draw on alternative policy metaphors as recommended
by Donald Schon (Beyond
the Stable State, 1973):
the framing of problems often depends upon
metaphors underlying the stories which generate problem setting and set the
direction of problem solving.
Could it be that 'counter-terrorism' is
a metaphoric trap that guarantees the perpetuation of the cycle of violence - as
the Middle East seems so effectively to demonstrate? The
following are an indication of some alternative possibilities.
Transforming canon fodder: As with the World
War I, it is appropriate to see those who suffer most from current levels of
general education as "cannon
fodder", namely those regarded or treated as expendable
in the face of enemy fire, possibly because of their lack of experience in
contrast to the more valuable veterans. They are the
metaphorical food for cannon.
This understanding, which remains a fact in Afghanistan as the number of deaths
on all sides have indicated, might be fruitfully understood in terms of an
alternative framing as canon fodder. Whether it be the canon of democracy which
the ISAF allies are seeking to spread with the aid of violence, or the religious
canon in terms of which this is violently resisted, the form of the canon has
indeed been changed, but perhaps not its mode of operation in systemic terms.
And it still needs fodder in order to operate -- fodder which is destroyed
through the digestive processes of the canon.
This transformative reframing is appropriate in that the "clash
of which Afghanistan is a manifestation, emerges from the pressures of faith-based
governance. These have been exemplified on the one hand by the underlying
mindsets of George Bush and Tony Blair, and by the Islamic perspective on
the other. Many such religions are governed by canons, most explicitly the
Christian religions inspired by the Biblical
canon. Believers may then be understood to be the fodder of such religion
-- who may indeed be called upon to sacrifice themselves, as fodder for
A further transformation may however be considered in that the concept of
a canon is fundamental to a certain aesthetic understanding of musical harmony.
In music, a canon
is a contrapuntal composition that employs a melody with one or more imitations
of the melody played after a given duration in a different voice -- then termed
the follower. The follower is required to imitate the leader, either as an
exact replication of its rhythms and intervals or some transformation thereof.
The engagement between distinct perspectives is thereby transformed. Traces
of this are to be detected in the manner in which those inn military conflict
adapt creatively to the initiatives of the other -- in a tragic "music of
the battlefield". Ironically this was originally echoed in competing martial
music -- now degraded into use of dissonant music and sound.
Cognitively the contrapuntal importance of the canon has been extensively
explored by Douglas
Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1979). This
discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning
despite being made of "meaningless" elements -- arguably of fundamental importance
to reframing the meaninglessness of conventional conflict.
Developing responsive operational network enhancement (DRONE): As
unmanned aerial vehicles, drones have
become of major significance to decreasing face-to-face engagement with insurgent
forces in Afghanistan -- reducing the associated costs and increasing the
destructive efficacy. The question is whether the technology can be transformed
-- even "inverted" -- to enhance the nature and quality of engagement between
The technology enables a remarkable overview of zones of potential conflict,
and the identification of those who may constitute a threat. These may be
targeted for elimination. In traditional military terms, this is the epitome
of cowardice, exemplifying inability to face those it is possible to destroy
with superior technology. It thereby enhances immeasurably the
reputation for courage of those who find ways of resisting such modes of engagement.
Appropriately inverted the technology would enable the enhancement of operational
networks through which fruitful interaction between opposing perspectives could
take place -- as argued from a global perspective (From
ECHELON to NOLEHCE: enabling a strategic conversion to a faith-based global
brain, 2007). The challenge
is to use such technology to sustain the emergence of superordinate structures
Disagreements for Superordinate Frame Configuration,
Globally and Contending Locally; shaping the global network of global bargains
by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues 1992; Implementing
principles by balancing configurations of functions; a tensegrity organization
Given the recognition of the importance of enabling the emergence of a robust
civil society, especially significant is the potential use of DRONE technology
to sustain viable configurations (Polyhedral
Empowerment of Networks through Symmetry: psycho-social implications for organization
and global governance, 2008).
Arming civilians: There is a high degree of hypocrisy to
the programme for spreading democracy to peoples such as those of Afghanistan,
notably in the light of the values of the USA as self-acclaimed standard
bearer of democracy. This is most evident through the historical role of the
heroic militia in the USA in resisting the forces of the British crown -- a
role reflected in the Second
Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (part of the Bill
of Rights) and vigorously defended to this day by the US National
Rifle Association. Such militia were of course framed as terrorists by the
British. Any such equivalence is currently denied. The point remains however
that democracy, as it is hoped to spread it by the USA, is necessarily dependent
in constitutional terms on the right of citizens to bear arms and to participate
in armed militia (Arming
Civil Society Worldwide: getting democracy to work in the emergent American
The question is whether, in the emerging global knowledge society, citizens
have the right to be "armed" otherwise and to participate in forms of "militia"
appropriate to that context. If such a military metaphor is to be used, with
what knowledge should civilians be "armed"? In what forms of "militia" is it
appropriate that they should participate? The distinction between "freedom
fighters" and "terrorists" has never been resolved -- with those affected claiming
or attributing labels as they see fit. Counter-terrorist measures now typically
conflate any form of dissent as indicative of a potential terrorist threat.
There is clearly a case for much greater effort to clarify distinctions regarding
unacceptable forms of extremism, especially in the light of the risk-taking
by the financial community that has so endangered the livelihoods of millions
Financial Risk-taking as Extremism -- subject to anti-terrorism legislation? 2009;
the Global Struggle against Extremism "rooting for" normalization
vs. "rooting out" extremism? 2005; Varieties
of Terrorism: extended to the experience of the terrorized , 2004).
From such a perspective, how are deprecated notions of "insurgency" to be
related to notions of "outrage" ? (Madeleine Bunting, Our
speechless outrage demands a new language of the common good, The
19 October 2009). In response to any "surge" in invasive forces, what sort
of response is appropriate?
Enhancing IED deployment: The use of improvised
explosive device (IEDs) in the unconventional warfare of Afghanistan has
been a major source of casualties for ISAF forces -- and a justification for
the use of DRONE technology. The innovative development and deployment of these
IEDs has been a characteristic of the resistance.
Strategically the success of these devices points metaphorically to the possibility
of development and deployment of "improvised educational devices". Clearly
there are deficiencies in the deployment of conventional educational processes
seeking to spread the "canon of democracy". The question is how to enable the
innovation capable of improvising educational devices under exceptionally problematic
conditions -- in an extremely hostile environment. There is a tragic irony
to the fact that IEDs, as currently conceived and used, indeed have a major
educational role in general education.
As devices which currently encourage extreme precaution and the expectation
of the unforeseen, the question is what kinds of improvised educational
devices might be designed and how might the be deployed. Pointers in this
direction are offered by the highly creative initiatives of Greenpeace. At
an individual level, another indication is the initiative of the international
network of "entarteurs" which specialize in "pieing".
This is the act of throwing a pie at an authority figure,
politician, or celebrity to evoke embarrassment. Other pointers are to be found
in the learnings traditionally offered by Zen masters. More generally these
may all be seen as examples of liberating provocations (Liberating
Provocations: use of negative and paradoxical strategies, 2005).
In a period when there are calls for greater recognition of the Precautionary
Principle, improvised education devices clearly have a vital role to play
in encouraging the emergence of more appropriate strategies.
Developing landmine placement and removal: Conventional IEDs
are of course the "amateur" equivalent to the "professional" use
of mass produced
landmines, so widely distributed
through the international arms trade in which so many of the ISAF countries
are deeply implicated.
There is a deep and tragic irony to the fact that the term is used in conflicts
in which one or other party lays claim to the "land" as being "mine". This
tragedy is indicative of a cognitive challenge and opportunity given the deep
psychocultural engagement with the land that is typically characteristic of
one of the parties. The nature of this engagement has been most fundamentally
explored with respect to indigenous peoples by Darrell
Posey (Cultural and Spiritual
Values of Biodiversity, United Nations Environmental
Programme and Intermediate Technology Publications, 1999). It is most evident
in the claims made by the Jewish people for the land of Israel.
The cognitive challenge is therefore twofold, namely how to develop a deep
association with the land -- to develop a profound bond with the land, notably
as is appropriate in terms of healthy engagement with the environment. Interesting
examples of this at the collective level are provided by the process of land
nám, coined by Ananda
Coomaraswamy (The Rg Veda as Land-Nama Book, 1935), to refer to
the Icelandic tradition of claiming ownership of uninhabited spaces through
weaving together a metaphor of geography of place into a unique mythic story.
This territorial appropriation process, notably practiced by the Navaho and
the Vedic Aryans, was further described by Joseph Campbell (The Inner Reaches
of Outer Space: metaphor as myth and religion, 1986):
Land nám ("land claiming or taking") was [the Norse] technical
term for this way of sanctifying a region, converting it thereby into an
at once psychologically and metaphysical Holy Land.... Land nám,
mythologization, has been the universally practiced method to bring this
intelligible kingdom to view in the mind's eye. The Promised Land, therefore,
is any landscape recognized as mythologically transparent, and the method
of acquisition of such territory is not by prosaic physical action, but poetically,
by intelligence and the method of art; so that the human being should be
dwelling in the two worlds simultaneously of the illuminated moon and the
illuminating sun. (p. 34)
The process continues to be common whenever dominated territories recover
their independence -- as in South Africa where indigenous geographical names
are substituted for European names. Variants are to be found in the naming
by scientists of theories, equations and processes -- after their originators
in the discipline in question. In the case of astronomers and biologists, this
extends to stars and species respectively. This offers a more dilute understanding
of cognitive property -- unrecognized by law as intellectual property -- by
which communities empowered to do so place their (trade)mark upon cognitive
Corresponding to this deployment of cognitive "landmines" is the
challenge of their removal -- of "demining" or "mine clearing". The question
is then how to interrelate the processes of exclusive cognitive claims and
engagement with disassociation from such claims through appropriate detachment.
The emergence of a global civilization has been associated with the considerable
development of insights into complexity beyond the cognitive simplicities
of "flatland" and a "flat earth mentality" as charmingly described by a number
of mathematicians. The cognitive challenge
has long been delightfully articulated in such mathematical fiction as Edwin
A. Abbott's Flatland:
a romance of many dimensions (1884), Charles
Howard Hinton's An Episode on Flatland: or how a plain folk discovered
the third dimension (1907), A.
K. Dewdney's The
Planiverse (1984), Ian
Stewart's Flatterland (2001),
and Rudy Rucker's Spaceland (2002).
The 1884 novel has recently taken the form of an animated version (Flatland,
2007) to highlight the challenges otherwise.
Despite such insights, little insight has emerged into the possibility
that the "land" that
is "mine" may lie in other dimensions -- and that it is only through
such higher dimensionality that conflicts governed by a two-dimensional flat
earth mentality can be reconciled (And
When the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians,
of Thinking for Sustainable Global Governance, 2009; Irresponsible
Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2008)
Enhancing collateral impact: Of deep concern in Afghanistan
is the impact of the initiatives of both sides on innocent parties. The deaths
to civilians caused by suicide bombers are widely deplored as barbaric. The
numerous incidents in which innocents have been (mistakenly) targeted by ISAF
forces have contributed significantly to antagonism to their intervention
-- especially the proclivity for attacking wedding parties. Such consequences
have of course been framed as regrettably necessary collateral damage by both
parties -- each perceiving and framing that of the other as being more barbaric.
This regret extends to incidents of "friendly
The question is how collateral impact might be enhanced, notably through the
use of improvised educational devices and reframing the nature of the "missiles"
used . The challenge would seem
to be the metaphorical entrapment of both parties in the tangibles giving rise
to damaging physical impact. This metaphorical entanglement is most evident
in the use of military metaphors with respect to intangible ends -- the "battle
for hearts and minds" (Missiles,
Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: navigation of strategic interfaces
in multidimensional knowledge space, 2001).
Any enhancement of collateral impact raises the question of the appropriateness
of current understandings of "impact" consequent upon "targeting",
notably as in any marketing exercise, whether commercial, ideological or spiritual.
More relevant are understandings emerging from techniques of viral
marketing. Of particular relevance is the nature of the interface across
which "impact" is sought in terms of the communication of insight,
notably the question of whether the interface is designed for unilateral communication
or allows for feedback and genuine "communication". It is in this
sense that the psychocultural significance of poetry merits considerable attention,
especially given the respect for this mode in Afghanistan (Strategic
Jousting through Poetic Wrestling: aesthetic reframing of the clash of civilizations,
Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity?,
Within such a framing, "collateral" then takes form of entrainment
consequent upon collective appreciation of aesthetic engagement. There is even
the sense in which, rather than the two-dimensional metaphoric geometry of "lateral",
there is an evolution into the three-dimensional geometry of "encompassing"
Geometry in Quest of Globality -- in response to global governance challenges,
Undermining democrassy: The efforts to spread democracy in
Afghanistan have provided numerous examples of how these have been undermined,
notably through myriad forms of corruption and intimidation. Less clear is
the extent to which analogous processes effectively operate to a considerable
degree in countries claimed to represent the epitome of democracy
-- as argued by Naomi Klein (The
Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism, 2007, reviewed
by(Juan Santos, The
Face Of Fascism In A Global System Heading For Collapse, Countercurrents.org,
31 December 2007).
The challenge would appear to be one of undermining a crass form of democracy,
perhaps appropriately to be termed "democrassy". The question is what processes
are used as fig leaves to disguise the crass nature of democracy -- namely
processes that use universal values as camouflage beneath which democrassy
can flourish, with principles then serving a purely decorative function optimistically
invoked for purposes of self-glorification.
Interror-negotiating: Those who have laid claim to the highest
moral and spiritual principles have made it evident in Afghanistan that they
were only too ready to lay these aside to advance their agendas -- claiming military
necessity in defence of those very principles. Those ends
have been explicitly held to justify the means -- dramatically setting aside
the longstanding dilemma and providing a remarkable precedent for others. Whilst
this has been evident on the larger scale in the deliberate recent use of what
are categorized as inhumane
weapons, it has also been especially evident in the extensive use of "enhanced
-- indistinguishable in many respects from the most extreme forms of torture recognized
by the United
Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment (1984). This is all the more extraordinary in that the
governments concerned base their own legitimacy on claims to a special relationship
to God -- implying that such actions are blessed by God, as evident in the
extent in which military chaplains are complicit in the process.
The global strategic challenges of the future are increasingly understood
as liable to create a situation of "terror-for-all". This will go
far beyond the unilateral, instrumental inculcation of terror in a single person
to one in which all are increasingly immersed in collective existential terror.
This may indeed encourage a dysfunctional hyperdevelopment of "positive
thinking" or global "bright-siding", systematically denying
and negating such terror -- perhaps to be termed "interror-negating" (Barbara
how the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America,
2009; see review).
A possible transformation beyond this condition is through a form of mutual
deep questioning and challenge -- calling into question, beyond the constraints
of the unilateral mode and tepid forms of inter-faith, inter-cultural and inter-disciplinary
discourse. This form of mutuality in challenging dialogue might be termed
"inter-rogating" (beyond the perverse limitations of the Stockholm
More intriguing is a proactive response to shared terror and the special bonding
which is well-recognized as emerging in such circumstances. Under conditions
of destruction "mutually assured" by global circumstances, unforeseen
forms of negotiation may become possible -- perhaps to be termed "interror-negotiation".
The (in)action of all parties together might then be understood as contributing
to the classic ticking
bomb threat --
a multi-party analogue to a binary
Such recognition might even open the gate to strategic opportunities
through which such circumstances can be circumvented -- perhaps to be termed "interror-gating",
the archetypal, existential gate "through" terror. From a faith-based
governance perspective, this may constitute a fundamental existential reframing
of inter-faith negotiation (Thinking
in Terror: refocusing the interreligious challenge from "Thinking
after Terror", 2005).
Achieving effective presence in Afghanistan through strategic
Comparisons have been made between the engagement of the USA in Afghanistan
and that in Vietnam -- whether to recognize parallels or to deny them. These
comparisons tend not to mention a particularly insightful study comparing the
metaphor fundamental to the strategy of the Vietnamese (supported by China)
with that fundamental to the strategy of the USA there.
As in the game of go, the real challenge may be at a contextual level - recalling
the analysis of Scott
Boorman (A Protracted Game: a wei-ch'i interpretation of maoist revolutionary
strategy, 1969). He compared the go-strategy of the Vietnamese with chess-strategy
employed by the USA. This analysis is echoed in the International Bulletin
of Political Psychology (Vol.10 No.13 Apr 13, 2001) comparing Vladimir
Putin's judo-influenced strategy with that of the 'weight-machine' mindset
of the USA. Does the fact that the few web references to 'defensive terror' in
a counter-terrorist manual are followed by numerous references extolling its
merits in American football lock strategic thinking into a particular mode?
Reframed in the light of go-strategy and the martial art understanding of "empty
hand" strategy, the strategic challenge then has the elements of
a non-linear shadow game that will always out-maneuver any obvious achievements
against obvious targets desperately sought. Targetting itself becomes a metaphoric
Given the current major review of the strategy of the USA in Afghanistan --
at a time of increasing popular doubts regarding the costs of that engagement
-- the possibility that merits exploration is one of "absence" rather
"presence", of "engagement through disengagement". It is
such paradoxes which characterize the strategy of go rather than any "face
off" typical of chess.
Poetic engagement was cited above as an example of changing the "language" of
strategic engagement with those seemingly intractably opposed (Strategic
Jousting through Poetic Wrestling: aesthetic reframing of the clash of civilizations,
Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity?,
2009).. In terms of geometrical
metaphor it might be expressed as a shift from the linearity of missiles and
missions to a non-linear mode, opening up new cognitive spaces, and offering
greater degrees of coherence (Metaphorical
Geometry in Quest of Globality -- in response to global governance challenges,
Commentary on strategic update announced by Donald Trump (21 August 2917)
- Julian Borger in Washington (Trump to expand US military intervention in Afghanistan, 22 August 2017, The Guardian, 2017):
- Trump repeatedly presented his ideas for south Asia as a radical departure from the Obama administration, with a tighter focus on counter-terrorism, describing his approach as "principled realism". "We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,"" he said
- In his address, Trump made a virtue of avoiding details, saying he would not repeat what he presented as the Obama administration's mistake of signalling plans to the nation's enemies. Instead, key decisions would be taken by military commanders and determined by "conditions on the ground and not arbitrary timetables".
- he president admitted that escalating the US war in Afghanistan had not been his initial instinct when he came to office. Trump scarcely mentioned Afghanistan during last year.s election campaign, but prior to entering the presidential race, he had vociferously argued for withdrawal. So had his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who ... had pushed for US troops to be replaced by private contractors but was outvoted by the serving and retired generals in the administration. He has returned to running the rightwing news outlet Breitbart, which filled its home page ... with critical reports of Trump's "flip-flop" on Afghanistan.
- Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Mark Landleraug: Trump Outlines New Afghanistan War Strategy With Few Details (The New York Times, 21 August 2017):
- President Trump put forward on Monday a long-awaited strategy for resolving the nearly 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, but he declined to specify either the number of troops that would be committed, or the conditions by which he would judge the success of their mission there.
- In a nationally televised prime-time speech to troops at Fort Myer, Va., Mr. Trump said there would be no "blank check" for the American engagement in Afghanistan. But in announcing his plan, Mr. Trump deepened American involvement in a military mission that has bedeviled his predecessors and that he once called futile.
- But he did not define what victory would look like, nor did he explain how his path would be different from what he labeled the failed strategies of previous presidents.
- Kelly Magsamen: Afghanistan Is Now Trump's War (Foreign Policy, 21 August 2017):
- President Donald Trump has just made one of the most consequential decisions of his young and turbulent presidency ... increasing the American commitment in Afghanistan was the Trump national security team's preferred outcome -- and despite the president's misgivings, the final one... The Trump administration will assert that this is a new strategy -- a clear break from President Barack Obama's approach -- but in reality it is just a moderate adjustment of a core strategy that has been in place for years, with mixed results.
- Donald Trump's new Afghanistan strategy welcomed by 'fully committed' NATO (ABC News, 22 August 2017)
- Trump to ask Americans to trust him on Afghanistan (CNN, 22 August 2017)
- Sune Engel Rasmussen: The war America can't win: how the Taliban are regaining control in Afghanistan (The Guardian, 3 August 2017)
Seemingly in antiticipation of the new strategy, a succinct summary of the strategic initiatives of the past is provided by Ralph Nader, with the following introduction:
Since 2001 the US has been at War in Afghanistan -- the longest war in US history. Headlines concisely tell the story of this cruel boomeranging quagmire of human violence and misery. Below are some newspaper headlines from 2010 to the present to show that a militarized foreign policy without Congress's constitutional duties and steadfast public engagement will drift on, costing our soldiers' lives and limbs, nearly three-quarters of a trillion taxpayer dollars, hundreds of thousands of Afghani lives and millions of refugees, with no end in sight. (Ralph Nader: The 16 Year War in Afghanistan: headlines tell the story (eNews Park Forest, 15 August 2017)
"Mother of All Bombs" (April 2017)