Coherent Gibberish

Robb, J. (2007). Davos Irrelevant? John Robb’s Weblog. January 17, 2007. Available online: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/johnrobb/2007/01/davos_irrelevan.html [also at Davos Conversation and Free Press].

Nothing sums of the internally-consistent nonsense of Global Guerrillas and John Robb (the blogs) more than this post:

With global economy running itself (where it is going, nobody has a clue), bottoms up organizations are forming to solve local and global needs, and states being pushed to margins, you can’t help but get the sense that Davos is hideously anachronistic — from a seemingly long ago time when big ideas, big people, and big states ruled the world.

Like most of the rest of what John Robb writes, this is fourth-rate gibberish.

Consistency is a virtue, and Robb (the theorist) should be praised for it. While other writers might be tempted to change what they write to reflect something of what goes on in the world, global guerrillas (the theory) betrays no such reflex. Global Gorrillas Theory, like Aristotle’s theories, are completely free from worldly matters like observation, explanatory power, and falsification. Like some ancient philosophy free of empirical observations, Global Gorillas is a gift to the ages, because it remains equally worthless in all times in all places.

To go back to the post mentioned above: the World Economic Forum typically held in Davos, Switzerland, is a yearly gathering of influential and powerful people, and the obligatory hangers-on. It may be as benign as an place for debate and discussion among people who can operationalize ideas in the real world, or as hideous as a kleptocratic conclave of the rich and powerful. A basic understanding of human nature implies it is probably both.

In the real world, people can be motivated by learned goals. But not in Robb’s. After all, big ideas are hideously anachronistic. In the real world, some people are supernodes who hold greater influence than others. But not in Robb’s. After all, big people are hideously anarchistic. In the real world, the actions of powerful countries can set regional and system-level rules. But not in Robb’s. After all, big states are hideously anachronistic.

Again, such gibberish is perfectly consistent with the rest of what Robb has written. His “global guerrillas” exist entirely free of motivation and economics, altruistically sacrifice their lives, times, and materials to wear down the economies of big states. Why would they do this? How can they succeed, as they are putting their west point (lack of resources) against the strongest point of their enemies (the wealth of resources owned by the now-anachronistic big ideas, big states, and big actors). It doesn’t matter.

This is fully consistent with other aspects of “global guerrillas theory.” In scientific usage, “theory” implies some prediction should be made. But GGT doesn’t make predictions. In regular usage, “theory” implies the ability to explain something that has already happened. But GGT doesn’t explain the past. A full and complete understand of global guerrillas theory neither explains the past nor predicts the future. Global Guerrilla theory is, in the truest sense of the word, useless.

I have never read anything that implies that Global Guerrillas Theory is anything other than coherent gibberish. Perhaps Robb’s book will begin the process of matching his theorizing with real events in the real world. But I doubt it.

75 thoughts on “Coherent Gibberish”

  1. Maybe I am misinterpreting the direction of this discussion, but it has a very “top-down” feel to it. I think the notion of global hegemony or world government (however, you wish to term it) disturbing. I also would say that global government is not necessarily the direction that global political affairs are going in, we have to be careful to not allow our biases to cloud our arguments. The deterministic notion that governments will conglomerate into one global entity is troubling and I would argue unrealistic. Just because for the past century and a half states have become larger does not mean this trend will continue. I would make several counter arguments:

    “I suppose a global hegemony would not have the same flavor as historical tyrannies…”

    I would argue that a global tyrant or global government (even if it is democratic or republican) would be worse than the tyrants of history. It is simply easier to impose one moral code, one vision of history, one set of beliefs than it is to cater to the 6 billion different individuals on this planet. Governments can not provide for the needs and desires of thousands, let alone billions. Groups who were opposed to any global hegemon would have to be suppressed (and it will become much easier, under this hypothetical scenario, to wipe out entire groups than to manage them over time.)

    “Our increasingly complex, integrated, and peaceful forms of government exist not because they are morally better, but because they work.”

    I agree with this notion to a degree, but I do not think the forms government that currently exist are necessarily more peaceful. The basic forms of government that exist today are the same ones that existed several generations ago that brought about the greatest level of violence in human history.

    Regards,
    TDL

  2. Guys,

    I think Dan and Curtis need to step back from theory space a bit. All theory and no practical reality makes for a very unhealthy debate.

    The reality is that we are getting beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan (and there are signs that it won't stop there as in Nigeria). The model I provide answers many of the questions as to why this is so and as a result it is being sought after by those that are in decision making positions to make a difference, which I am more than happy to provide. So, there is more than a little evidence that GGs are a reality and not some “gibberish” as opposed to purely theoretical work that hasn't been proven out yet.

    In terms of approach, I do take a “red team” approach to how I write, but I think that is the most effective way to get across the message. My thinking is that unless the threat and the environment is accurately defined, you can't build effective solutions. So far, the solutions I am finding appear to bottoms up in a way that parallels the threat, which seem incompatible with what the existing bureaucracies can accept. We'll see who is right.

    Perhaps this all started with my occassional jab at Barnett (who is apparently someone you both care about), who is often inclined to return the jab. I think between the two of us, it is all part of healthy intellectual debate and not because we both hate each other. It shouldn't be interpreted as anything but that.

    Thanks to phil, ry and others for trying to inject some calm into the debate here. My work on this topic is a labor of love and not something that consumes my life (I spend most of my time and make the vast majority of my money in the real world building companies). So to assume I have some massive degree of influence in this sphere that needs to be deflated is both foolish and naive. I suspect we are all pissing in the wind of history on this.

    Sincerely,

    John Robb

  3. TDL,

    “I would argue that a global tyrant or global government (even if it is democratic or republican) would be worse than the tyrants of history. It is simply easier to impose one moral code, one vision of history, one set of beliefs than it is to cater to the 6 billion different individuals on this planet.”

    In fact, I've recently suggested something quite different in response to rhetorical questions left elsewhere:

    “I suppose I should extend my fingertip feelings by saying that 5GW theory appears to assume the reality of the possibility that normative theory can be applied differently than it is typically applied; i.e., with the understanding that largely vertical establishment and maintenance of standards within a system is proving archaic and probably impossible. [1]”

    I didn't bring up the theory of “hegemony” in this thread although I've followed through on the consideration, and I recognize that the instinctual reaction to the word or to the idea of 'global government' is to assume some sort of top-down vertical imposition of will. In Robb's comment here, he reintroduces the concept of “bottoms up”, after you have used the idea “top-down”; and I would say that this dichotomous thinking is rather facile. A great link is missing in each understanding; namely, that bottoms-up controls, influences, and so forth create, in a complex system, a corresponding top-down imposition. The system built through bottoms-up pressures also creates top-down controls.

    As for the second sentence quoted above: Tell me how “one moral code, one vision of history, one set of beliefs” has ever been achieved, in any government or society in history. There has always been diversity of opinion, has there not? I think you have given too much credence to the notion of one-way, top-down controls. No such thing has ever existed, which is why governments that have attempted the forced emergence of such a scenario have always fallen. Creating a vision of such a government in order to be able to argue against it is pointless.

    [1] http://www.fifthgeneration.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2007/01/5gw_freedom_and_theory.php#comment-1660

  4. How very 4GW of you, John, not so much substantive as appealing to a **sense** of goodness/rightness while attacking irrelevancies to show badness/wrongness:

    “All theory and no practical reality makes for a very unhealthy debate.”

    [truism meant to sweep away any substantive criticism]

    “it is being sought after by those that are in decision making positions to make a difference”

    [argument from authority]

    “Perhaps this all started with my occassional jab at Barnett”

    “I think between the two of us, it is all part of healthy intellectual debate and not because we both hate each other. It shouldn't be interpreted as anything but that.”

    [Note the attempt to demarcate between 'unhealthy debate' and 'healthy debate', while borrowing some of the authority of Barnett-the-icon]

    “Thanks to phil, ry and others for trying to inject some calm into the debate here. “

    [Who needs substantive debate, anyway? Calm is much better.]

    “My work on this topic is a labor of love”

    [And we know that labors of love are, because it's love, irreproachable. The actual issues and, of course, realities being discussed, are of no matter.]

    “So to assume I have some massive degree of influence in this sphere that needs to be deflated is both foolish and naive.”

    [Again, not so much about what's happening in the combat zone, but about who's who and so forth. Therefore: build your opponents' assumptions then knock them down with moralistic or intellectual displays of one's own location on the highest ground.]

    “I suspect we are all pissing in the wind of history on this.”

    [Want to figure out what's really happening? Naw, just give up. It's hopeless.]

    “Sincerely”

    [This is how it's done.]

    ——–

    But having returned the favor, just now, I suppose these things aren't terribly different than many of my comments in this thread. Just so. I'll admit to being a little flattered that you think I have any influence whatsoever and must be corrected!

    “The reality is that we are getting beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan (and there are signs that it won't stop there as in Nigeria). “

    John, change the title of your book to “Iraqi Guerrillas, Afghani Guerrillas, and Nigerian Guerrillas”, and you might clear up some of the confusion. Does the subtitle mean, “The end of ALL globalization” or only “The end of globalization for a few hotspots, for the time being at least”? I don't think anyone will argue against the fact that you have your thumb on the situation concerning a few hotspots, and appear to understand the dynamics of those places (particularly Iraq) rather well; and that these are things the U.S. and any other meddlesome states will need to know; but when you extend this particular vision to a grand epistemology concerning a global future — that's where you leave your theory open to attack. If indeed such an extension has never been your purpose; and we who have argued healthily or unhealthily have confused your aim through facile reading, misled by the title of the book to interpret other things erroneously; then changing the book's title and perhaps the title of your website might clear up the confusion.

  5. Curtis,

    As demonstrated in the deconstruction of my response, I suspect that it is impossible to have any level of constructive debate with you. This is my last response to the site. Thanks for your time.

    Sincerely,

    John Robb

  6. “it is being sought after by those that are in decision making positions to make a difference…”

    “So to assume I have some massive degree of influence in this sphere that needs to be deflated is both foolish and naive.”

    This is incoherent.

  7. John,

    Thank you for your comment. It is both substantial and appreciated.

    “The reality is that we are getting beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan (and there are signs that it won't stop there as in Nigeria).”

    We're not going to obtain maximalist results in either state, though the final outcome in both seems very similar to what we had planned in Afghanistan (llose central government surrounded by warlords who share the same fear of a Taliban resurgence) than in Iraq (where we ditched the strategy to try to build a unified, democratic, liberal state). So the lesson seems to be: more Afghanistans, less Iraqs.

    “GGs are a reality and not some “gibberish” “

    I disagree that global guerrillas exist, but you are correct that GG theory is not gibberish [1]. Such a description is more hot than accurate. I apologize.

    “In terms of approach, I do take a “red team” approach to how I write, but I think that is the most effective way to get across the message.”

    Yes. However, such is a mixed blessing. Apparent red-team enthusiasm (the hook-line-and-sinker post [2]) drives up readership and comments, but it lessons the quality of the destruction. Same for the original post at the top of this page — quite popular, but perhaps it didn't help the debate.

    “Thanks to phil, ry and others for trying to inject some calm into the debate here”

    I agree 100%.

    “My work on this topic is a labor of love and not something that consumes my life (I spend most of my time and make the vast majority of my money in the real world building companies).”

    I hope your next project goes as well as your previous one. 🙂

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/02/02/not-gibberish.html
    [2] http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2007/01/journal_targeti.html

  8. TDL,

    “The basic forms of government that exist today are the same ones that existed several generations ago that brought about the greatest level of violence in human history.”

    Only absolutely (when you measure by the megadeath). However, that's an artifact of how successful the current system is at allowing babies to be born and keeping them alive. Similarly, I imagine Japan has a mucher higher absolute death level that Compton, I'd rather live in Nihon than that suburb of LA.

    As a probability of dying through violence, however, the average death-by-violence rate in a tribal society is less than the average-death-by-violence rate than the citizens of the combatant countries during WWII.

    Our ever-more-peaceful world keeps sensitiziing us to violence, though, which I guess is a mixed blessing.

    Curtis,

    Your deconstructive criticism of John's post was inspired by the fac that it was rhetoric. It was — but it was rhetoric designed to defuse a situation and keep lines of communication open. It was the right comment at the right time, and I thank him for it.

    “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven..” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

  9. Dan,

    Evaluating such rhetoric in the way it was intended to be evaluated can only be possible when both parties have agreed upon a common set of guidelines for extracting the purpose from the gibberish. 😉 Perhaps in the idealized world, when all live by common rule-sets, with common morals and common beliefs and common ideologies and common understandings and a common language, and so forth, we will be able to conduct business through such fuzzy circumlocutions without disagreement and in perfect harmony; but if John is right, such a world is not likely. Even if he is not right in his vision of the future, I doubt that resting on faith in fuzzy rhetoric and fuzzy relations and fuzzy logic will be wise.

    To me, your interpretation seems like either a wish or another 4GW spin, and I don't think anyone is fooled by your sudden ascension to the higher ground. Of course, I would wish for JR's return to the site and this thread, if he would offer 'sincere' attempts at clearing up the confusions that have obsessed us concerning GG: in simple, direct, layman's words that might pierce through our foolishness and naïveté.

  10. Curtis,

    My reply is very much in keeping with my “scholarly style.” For instance, after I was accused of being a Jew [1] (?!), my reply asked for clarification of that, not an exposition on the accuser's motives. (To analyze the motives, I started another thread [2]). They are both interesting discussions, but they don't effect the validity of each other.

    Likewise, witness my reaction to the Black Gangster Disciples. [3]

    John's comments are valuable because they shed further light on his theory. If his writing is wrong but internally consistent (as I think it is), the more we get out of him, the more we can prove our position. 🙂

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/08/22/beautiful-zionist-girls-hot-jewish-babes-and-sexy-zionist-ch.html#c1379419
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/01/09/jew.html
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/11/30/inside-the-black-gangster-disciple-nation-crack-cocaine-gang.html

  11. Dan,

    I agree that your reply is in keeping with your style!

    I do not believe that John's comment sheds new light on his theory, but I suppose that further reading at his blogs and reading his book might (the latter probably better than the former); as usual, it's “wait and see!”

    I'm not even sure, btw, that his theory is internally consistent. Maybe that is due to his avowed “red team approach” since such an approach leaves at least half the argument unaddressed, using implication and nuance and so forth whenever that half encroaches on the theory. But quite possibly the attempt by others to fill the void he has left, who seize upon implication and nuance to do so, is what makes it seem internally incoherent.

  12. Curtis,

    “as usual, it's “wait and see!””

    Let's go faster than that.

    “I'm not even sure, btw, that his theory is internally consistent. Maybe that is due to his avowed “red team approach” since such an approach leaves at least half the argument unaddressed, using implication and nuance and so forth whenever that half encroaches on the theory. But quite possibly the attempt by others to fill the void he has left, who seize upon implication and nuance to do so, is what makes it seem internally incoherent.”

    As I see it, there are three possibilities for global guerrilla theory

    Internally valid, externally valid
    Internally valid, externally invalid
    Externally invalid, externally invalid

    (An externally invalid theory cannot make coherent predictions, and thus is thrown out immediately. Thus I think his comment that

    “I think Dan and Curtis need to step back from theory space a bit. All theory and no practical reality makes for a very unhealthy debate.”

    Is substantial but incorrect. A theory can be shredded entirely in the theoretical space.)

    That's why I started looking at the elements of GGT [1] as well as the definition of GGs themselves. [2] If GGT is internally invalid, we may be able to establish this just by nailing down his concepts. If GGT is externally invalid, we can demonstrate this by making it clear what GGT actually says. Alternatively, if GGT is correct (unlikely in my view, but possible), it would complement everything that's been written about 5GW and the generations of war.

    So let's get to work. There's other phrases Robb throws around — black swans, black globalization, (“black” ??). They need definitions.

    And if, at the end of the day, all we are left with is a series of defined terms, that wouldn't be bad either. The terms can survive independent of the theorist that spins them. They can, if they are useful, be incorporated into 5GW theory.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/01/27/elements-of-global-guerrilla-theory.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/01/30/working-definition-of-global-guerrillas.html

  13. Certainly the black market is an age old phenomena.

    I think where Black Globalization is born is in consideration of the massive growth in the global black market and the possibility (or reality depending on ones position) of GG's utilizing such for what is essentially financial sovereignty.

  14. What a thread! I can't believe I read the whole thing.

    Actually I think a better definition of “Black Globalization” is the direct use of black market for anti-state and competing state action.

    On a related note, I have a site called JargonDatabase.com and I have “Strategy” section located here
    http://www.jargondatabase.com/SubCat.aspx?id=113

    It might be useful for future understanding we collected all of the terms we're using in the thread.

  15. Despite Curtis' churlishness, here's a quick suggestion that may help. Pick out the one thing, as narrow that you can make it, that troubles you about GG warfare. Ask me the question (send me an e-mail) about it and I will do my best to answer it.

  16. Steve,

    Great idea what with the Jargon Database. Unfortunately, if the term “Black Globalization” is there I can't find it. 🙂

    John, that's a generous offer.

  17. Black Globalization:

    James McCormick's characteristically AWESOME review of Moises Naim's book “Illicit”.

    “Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, has written an outstanding summary of the flip side of the post-Cold War economic boom. Think of it as the antithesis of Jim Bennett’s book … a “The Global Criminal Affluenza Challenge: How an Army of Fagins Leverages High-Yield Crime while Civil Society Implodes in the 21st Century.”

    The author asks a provocative question. What if we looked at global crime from a purely economic perspective?”

    http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/004587.html

  18. Jay, why is Steve wrong on black globalization?

    Steve, why is Jay wrong on black globalization?

    Lexington, is black globalization purely economic?

    John, a gracious offer. The email's been sent.

  19. Jay,

    I was actually just looking for a contrast of

    “I think where Black Globalization is born is in consideration of the massive growth in the global black market and the possibility (or reality depending on ones position) of GG's utilizing such for what is essentially financial sovereignty.”

    with

    “”Black Globalization” is the direct use of black market for anti-state and competing state action.”

    One definition appears much broader than the other, and I was curious about that.

  20. I like my definitions narrow. Now that I think about it, it would be interesting to see GG groups (such as we use the term) morph into mafia like entities. That was how the mafia started in fact.

  21. Ah, I see.

    Some more regarding black globalization.

    If I understand Johns GG theory correctly, one principle that divides GG's from “simple” 4GW is their financial autonomy. Where as say, Hezbollah is reliant on Iran for arms and cash the GG's will utilize the benefits of black globalization effectively relieving them from state reliance.
    I think he begins to capture and mold out this idea here[1](as quoted from cfr.org on his site)

    “Indeed, when it was headquartered in Sudan and then Afghanistan, the al-Qaeda terrorist organization provided important financial support to its host state—instead of the other way around.”

    That's a pretty impressive example of financial autonomy. Admittedly it doesn't engage the BG effect (this is discussed later in his analysis) but it does set the framework to apply the BG element of GG autonomy.

    Lastly, I'd say that without the BG element the GG theory is essentially lost. For an anti-state organization to exist I'd say financial sovereignty is paramount.

    [1] http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2004/04/journal_al_qaed.html

    *In all honesty I haven't got a clue as to how html works on blgogspirit other than the fact that previous attempts to produce links here haven't been effective. As such, my apoligies if the above isn't an actual link.

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