Global Guerrillaism or Idiocy?

There’s an ongoing debate about low intelligence, environmental instability, and the livint standards of a country. It’s worth reading about, but I will set that aside to re-join the discussion on global guerrillas, with my friends Schloky, Soob, and others.

I’ve criticized global guerrilla theory before. It is unfalsifiable, lacks metrics, and lacks any explanation of why someone would become a global guerrilla. About the only thing going for the theory is that there are “failed states” and “hollow states” in the world. Global guerrillas would want to create hollow states, so the argument goes, therefore, these hollow states may have been caused by global guerrillas.

Of course, this is like arguing in favor of aliens by saying there are lights in the sky. And it can be combated in the same way. The “alien hypothesis” for UFOs is not taken seriously because far more boring explanations (misidentified planets, military craft, etc.) work equally well. Likewise, the “global guerrilla” explanation for failed states falls because something far more obvious prevents societies from being stable.

Take, for example, Africa… a continent riddled with failed states since decolonization.

The African Gap

According to the latest failed states index, the hollowest countries in Africa are Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Chad, Ivoery Coast, Congo, Guinea, Central African Republic, Uganda, and Nigeria. An evidence of a global guerrilla swam? Hardly: the mean intelligent quotients of these countries are 72, unreported, 66, unreported, unreported, 65,59, unreported, 73, and 67.

Why don’t African states get better? Because the population, on the whole, has the intelligence of 12-year-olds.

Intelligence, besides making one “smarter,” is correlated with the ability to delay gratification and the ability to solve problems — precisely those skills needed for civilized life

To be persuasive, global guerrilla theory needs to explain failed states in a way better than other explanations. Lack of intelligence, combined with economic structure, alone is enough to explain most failed states. So why bother with “global guerrillas”?

Update: Tom adds his thoughts.

17 thoughts on “Global Guerrillaism or Idiocy?”

  1. “Because the population, on the whole, has the intelligence of 12-year-olds.”

    Hmmm…Should this be correlated with the average age of the populations? Civil wars, etc., tend to raise the ratio of children to adults, I think. Plus, this goes to something I've often thought: that ignorance is born every day. I.e., every human comes to the planet quite ignorant; thus, a failure to educate only perpetrates the sort of reduction in “operational” intelligence you have isolated.

  2. One reason why the South Dakota of my youth was dumber than its current edition is they're off the farm. The average IQ of Americans has gone up as they've moved off to cities. I think this is a flaw in IQ testing as human biology does not change that quickly.

  3. Curtis,

    The IQ test adjusts for age — it can be thought of as mental age / physical age. Therefore, if adults are acting as intelligent as 12 year olds, 12 year olds are duller still…

    I deleted a paragraph on possible causes of the low IQs because it distracted from my main theme. Obviously many factors can help to perpetuate low IQs. Global guerrillas is just a factor that doesn't need to be added anywhere in the equation.

  4. CIA World Factbook, average ages:

    Sudan: 18.7 years
    Somalia: 17.6 years
    Zimbabwe: 20.1 years
    Chad: 16.3 years
    Ivory Coast: 19.3 years
    Congo: 16.7 years
    Guinea: 17.7 years
    Central African Republic: 18.5 years
    Uganda: 14.9 years
    Nigeria: 18.7 years

    U.S.: 36.6 years
    China: 33.2 years
    Japan: 43.5 years
    India: 24.8 years

    — fact is, much of the population of the worst states *is* near 12-years old or below!

  5. BTW, I understand the mental age / physical age quotient, although I do question the types of tests that might have been used to determine the IQ.

    The continuing failure of the states should be thought of in terms of wisdom/life experience rather than intelligence. How many 17 year olds in America could form a stable state from the wilderness when so many of their compatriots are also about 17 years old or younger?

    I also suspect that the emergence of GGish gangstas is enabled by the low median age for these states. E.g., recently in a smallish town nearby my home, two small groups of teens recently met in a secluded park for a pre-arranged fight; only, one group brought baseball bats and a member of the other group ended up dead. Now imagine that happening on a broader scale.

    Furthermore, the generational divides within these states are probably more asymmetric, with the older members at the head of established ruling parties, sometimes using the younger members of the state and sometimes having to fend them off. The generational disparity, combined perhaps with asymmetric technologies or asymmetric access to infrastructure and weaponry, might also promote an indirect systempunkt attack approach. Dunno, really.

  6. You are exactly right. There isn't a global insurgency underway. Kilcullen, Robb, and all of those guys are idiots. I would argue that the US isn't even at war at all. It is just manipulation of the media by 5GW forces in our government. SB

    Love your stuff tdaxp. Keep up the great work.

  7. Curtis,

    I agree.

    My point is that the global-guerrillas-theoretical-infrastructure is not required to understand what keeps states hollows. Robb's theory multiplies variables unnecessary.


    Robb's a pretty bright guy, and while I've never interacted with Kilcullen I imagine the same is true of him.

    A criticism is better written like this: “Those theoriests make unnecessarily complex theories.”

    “It is just manipulation of the media by 5GW forces in our government.”

    Could you explain?

  8. Dan, I think you are spot-on in your criticism.

    However, GGs might be thought of as a continuation or escalation of the failed-state dynamic, preventing fixes to the other problems which preceded the emergence of GGs.

    To the degree that they are merely a late-term emergence, they must either burn themselves out when they *hollow* the localized system to the point of suicide, or else, in order to survive such impending ultimate collapse, they might need to turn their eyes outward if they're able.

    The age issues is really interesting. If a low median age is one of the requirements for the emergence of some types of GGs, this might go to explain the failure to see that their own activities may be suicidal. Youngsters do not plan well for the future.

  9. Yeh, the reason we are losing in Iraq isn't from some global insurgency. As you point out, those people in the middle east and africa are just too dumb to fight a superpower. The simple reason is that our generals and the White House mismanaged it.

    Unnecessarily complex theories. Right on. That Barnett is pretty complex too, he is out to lunch with Kilcullen and Robb. Just a bunch of warmongers that don't understand that things haven't changed.

    Explain? The real reason we are at war is because we are being manipulated by Bush and Cheney into thinking we are. We are not at war.

  10. Curtis,

    A clear definition of global guerrillas would help the debate immensely — but I don't think Robb ever provided one. My second working definition [1] meshes with everything he says, but obviously something from him would be even better.

    Young males tend to be less risk- and work- averse than other cohorts, so there's presence means lots of creativity/destruction. However, the low average IQ would push this closer to the “destruction” side.

    That said, their poverty would make them even less likely to be altruists. Robb's gg's don't seek to become the government or influence government policies, but this cohort would be very likely to be greedy (maximizing access to wealth, women, etc.).


    Thanks for the quick response!

    I agree with you on Robb, have no opinion on Kilcullen, but disagree with Barnett. He's a pretty straightforward economic-determinist, and most of what he says flows from the idea that people are income-maximizing when given the ability to do so. Further, he's a precise writer, and that allows his theories to be tested. [2]

    Presumably, if the President attacks a country, that makes us at war, whether we were before or not!


  11. Chicken or the egg? Are states failed because of low IQ, or do residents of failed states score low on IQ tests because their states are failed, depriving them of education, nutrition, and psychologically stable environments?

    If you are looking at metrics, you could see if the data exists to plot out IQ test results for some of these failed states over time, picking ones that were once functional (say Lebanon, Liberia or Iraq) and seeing whether there is correlation of any sort between state failure and lowering of the IQ results. My guess is that IQ results will fall after state failure, showing that low IQ does not cause state failure but is a result of it.

    Also I would be very careful with equating IQ test results with intelligence (“Why don't African states get better? Because the population, on the whole, has the intelligence of 12-year-olds”). Rather it is more indicative of the required socialization to live in and run a successful society.

  12. a517dogg,

    Absolutely. Once a state is failed and has an unintelligent citizenry, it's in a bad cycle. My point is merely that this vicious cycle should be enough to explain why failed states stay failed, without having to resort to “global guerrillas” (or ghosts, or space aliens, etc.).

    “I would be very careful with equating IQ test results with intelligence… Rather it is more indicative of the required socialization to live in and run a successful society.”

    Your second point is true but doesn't support the first. The human environment of much of contemporary Africa supports a “quantity not quality” strategy and does little to reward general intelligence. That said, some propensities and talents clearly would be more useful than the other, and it may be that general intelligence doesn't affect success much over there.

  13. Robb is really quite the bore and pretty lazy with definitions. He likes to keep them fast and loose so that when the NEXT BIG METAPHOR comes out he can jump on that bandwagon. Things he has added to GG:
    – swarm as a strategy? not a tactic, this makes absolutely no sense
    – The Long Tail, chris anderson takes on the future
    – anything new networking related

    Further he pushed the open source model as something new. Hello, RAND has been publishing reports for years on the learning rates of insurgents – this is nothing new.

    I would take Robb more seriously if he sat down and did the hard work of researching what's he's taking about versus grabbing headlines with dubious theories and little back-up.

  14. doe,

    Not sure what you mean with “bore.” Robb would help himself intellectually by defining his terms, as I mentioned to Steve Bross. I do agree that he uses words too freely — his near-hijacking of “5GW” was irksome.

    As someone who has compared politics to networking [1], however, I may have to give him a free pass on that! 🙂

    The open source model is very useful, though obviously extends far beyond his own writing. I seem to recall him shifting on whether or not he's using “open source” as an analogy for software development, but I can't find the relevant links. (Perhaps I'm mis-remembering.)

    I can't speak for his effort in theorizing… combining thoughts with current events is something that both he and Barnett do regularly. (Thus their blogs are more popularizing than tdaxp, which is more thinking-out-loud-about-whatever-I'm-interested-in.)


  15. “We are not at war”? By what definition? Talk about fast and loose. A war is organized violence defined by its participants as a war and conforming to some larger agreed upon rules. Iraq fits by all reasonable standards.

    I think that a major part of the problem is that the smart people aren't allowed to get into the state game anymore. A fool and his money may soon be parted but territory seems to be forever under our current international system. It is not self-evident to me why this is so.

  16. I came upon this article after googling “decolonization of Africa.” I wanted more information about the state of affairs in sub-Saharan and central Africa after the stabilizing force of the rule of European nations was removed. In my humble opinion, the regions I spoke of have been in chaotic turmoil ever since. It’s like watching a real-life “Lord of the Flies” society unfolding on a grand scale.

  17. Lech,

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I think I agree with your analysis, unfortunately.

    Hopefully the economic development which has come to Africa in recent years might help us turn this around…

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