One of the reasons I believe that John Robb’s work is general unhelpful is that it too easily reaches for emotionally charged appeals. If Robb used more precise and objective in his writings, he could add a good deal to the vertical domain of sub-state conflict study.
To take a recent example, Mountainrunner’s recent review of Brave New War was met with an odd attack on “the ‘conference crowd’ guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money-fantasy machine in Washington” (emphasis Robb’s). This unfortunately set a pattern, as Mountainrunner’s follow-up was met with this from Amendment Nine:
It seems the critique leveled against Robb is unfair and misplaced. I care more about that latter as fairness in critiquing works has never been a strong suit of mine. The criticism to date, if I can generalize, is thus: John Robb doesn’t explain the motivation of his guerrillas, he doesn’t go into what makes them tick, so therefore his theory of how to deal with them and where they are taking history is unhelpful. A few tastes of this here, here, and here.
So far, so good. AIX‘s Phoicon idenitifes a specific criticism he disagrees with, and cites sources relating to that disagrement. Immediately after this, though, he reaches for a simplistic and uninformed counter:
This is sad. An entire generation of Americans seems devoted to nothing but Freudian apologetics. Why do these “thinkers” care so much about the “motivations” of guerrilla warriors? Because Freud said thats important. And what Freud says is the Gospel truth, never mind the evidence to the contrary.
Its true! These neo-conservative, neo-liberal, grand world visionaries are so used to sucking off the milky tit of Freud and the thoroughly discredited academics who espouse Freud’s doctrine in the quiet confines of literature departments across the US that they no longer realize Freud has infected all parts of their thought.
We care about the guerrilla’s motivations less than we do Billy Budd’s. Or is it more? I can’t remember. You see my mommy didn’t love me enough when I was a boy and so ever since then I’ve been attracted to the smell of ivory tower feces and a dog’s ass.
Robb’s writings (cannot speak for his book) are unconcerned with motivations because motivations are spiritual. They aren’t really important in a historical context. What are important are the consequences of their actions.
What were the motivations for the US Civil War? The list goes on. I’m sure Sigmund would relate it all to the Lincoln’s sexual attraction to negro males. Just as I’m sure Dan, Mountainrunner, and the rest of these “thinkers” would opine endlessly on the sexual aggression of suicide bombers, their orgasmic climax of climaxes, and their aspirations to make love to multiple virgins. But what of the consequences? What of the real world?
Phoicon asks “what of the real world,” but his knowledge for how the real human world is studied is about a century out of date. Freud may live on in The Sopranos and pop wisdom everywhere, but real social sciences are based on matching independent variables to dependent variables. Real psychology, real political science, real study of society is based on explanations — the conjectures and refutations without which science is impossible.
Sigmund Freud, like John Robb, does not make falsifiable predictions. Neither can be considered scientific, and it would require a great mind to retrofit their ideas into something that can be scientifically useful. Examples of real areas of potential research include Tom Barnett’s theories as well as actual, instead of brave and new, studies of guerrillaism.
Ultimately, Phoicon’s statement that “motivations are spiritual. They aren’t really important in a historical context” is a plead to the God of Gaps.
To tie this all back to Robb: his “global guerrillas” do acts of great altruism (going out of their way to hollow out the state) while ignoring the rewards (money, power, ideology) that would accrue from becoming the state. So what is the motivation, if not these things? What knowledge is psychology missing that could explain these people?
Global guerrillas act as sub-state balance-of-power realists. Yet this political motivation has not been seen before. What has changed? I agree with Curtis that Robb would answer “technology,” but that’s just saying that the cost of capital has fallen vs. the cost of labor. So “technology” isn’t an answer at all, because if it was then there should have been global guerrillas in the past… but global guerrilla forces that used more people.