Soob

Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Transformation Combat

In the first Sandman graphic novel there is a scene where the dream god Morpheus engages in combat with a demon. They both transform their words into images that battle each other. For instance the demon begins by stating "I am dire wolf, prey-stalking, lethal prowler". Morpheus counters with "I am a hunter, horse-mounted, wolf-stabbing" and the hunter stabs the demon's wolf. This goes back and forth as different, more abstract transformations occur. The Sandman Annotations call this process "transformation combat" and is found within a lot of folklore and myth. It is where the combatants turns themselves into different animals or objects in hope to find weaknesses within the other combatant's animal or object.

It reminded me of network theories of war. Various violent non-state groups, according to Sageman, Arquilla, et al, organisationally resemble a network. The network transformation exploits a weakness in our organisational form. This raises the question of exactly what our organisational form is against these non-state actors. Or rather than a historical question of what our form was, the question should be, what is our form becoming? The current iteration is that we've transformed ourselves, or trying to transform ourselves, into a network to exploit the weaknesses in other networks. But if a network exploited our earlier form, shouldn't we leapfrog ahead to a form of organisation that exploits networks instead? The network versus network hypothesis presumes better networked groups automatically beat other networked groups. A network versus another network, in a vacuum, have exactly the same strengths and weaknesses. In a vacuum, a network might be better linked, or have more nodes, but it is still a network that has the exact same organisational weaknesses as the opposing network. It might be the case that in the real world a network versus network would be won by other factors not associated with the network form itself. It'd be a war won by attrition, money and logistics. It'd be trench warfare in network form.

So, I think you'd have to find two things to successfully fight networks, firstly, what are the weaknesses of the network form? And secondly, what sort of organisational form could you build, with its inherent strengths, that targets those weaknesses?

Update: Networks of course wouldn't be the only transformation combat going on. Other transformative forms I can think of from the top of my head are Robb's Global Guerrillas, COIN, super-empowered individuals and many others. What forms of organisation do these theories exploit? If you were involved in transformative combat with a global guerrilla what form would you take on to exploit his weaknesses? What counter-form would the global guerrilla take on then? And so on...

2 comments:

Ymarsakar said...

But if a network exploited our earlier form, shouldn't we leapfrog ahead to a form of organisation that exploits networks instead?

That's called Soviet Totalitarian mind control, you know. An organization that exploits the basic one to one networks of human interaction. Police states do that as well.

A network versus another network, in a vacuum, have exactly the same strengths and weaknesses.

A network of Western knights and Greek hoplites do not have the same strengths or weaknesses as a network of religious fanatics that believe in Jihad being rewarded with virgins or women being the source of ultimate evil and danger to their manhoods.

Thus, a network in a vacuum is no network, since the vacuum would also include the nodes or rather the absence of any nodes.

If you were involved in transformative combat with a global guerrilla what form would you take on to exploit his weaknesses?

The tribe or specifically Tribe Al-Ameriki.

The transformation is both an illusion and a reality. America didn't change her organization or physical structure when she made herself into another tribe to better negotiate with and deal with Arabs. America simply used a word and that word became a reality.

What counter-form would the global guerrilla take on then?

Sadr's response to American tribal politics or his own tribal politics is "liberation". National liberation or religious liberation, it matters not. Suddenly tribal and disassociated matters are countered with national liberation and unity, the unity required to beat off the occupiers. The occupiers being another nation or another tribe.

Your analogy is rather indepth, since it is true that neither of the transformed sides ever really fundamentally changed. They did change, but they didn't change physically. They changed on some other level of dimension or thought.

So no matter how many forms or counter-forms are developed, the nature of Sadr and Iran and the US and Iraq will always remain just as it has always been. Until one wins.

M├╝nzenberg said...

Ymarsakar, I was talking about a form of organisation that we haven't thought about yet. The Soviet style organisation, or police states, you are talking about is a step backward to a different form again, which isn't what I'm talking about.

Relating to that point, networks aren't exactly egalitarian either. Galloway and Thacker make an excellent case in 'The Exploit: A theory of Networks' that network forms can be just as tyrannical as bureaucratic hierarchies.

The network examples you gave have little to do with the intentions of the post. When I say network in vacuum I exactly mean, network in a vacuum, where the nodes are nothing but plain nodes in a larger graph. It is the structural weaknesses of that larger graph and organised network form I'm interested in, not the quality or difference of the nodes. If you are going to name examples of differing networks, then please give an example from a network perspective on why they're organised form is qualitatively different and how exactly they don't have the same organisational weaknesses as a generic network. Just inputting a historic group into a plain network and saying they're different without specifics makes it hard to assess the soundness of your argument (or perhaps I haven't made the initial post clear enough so people are misinterpreting it, Do I need to define or extrapolate on anything?).

Thanks for your other responses, they are food for thought.