Tag Archives: mountainrunner

Categorization and the Nature of Science

Does the Core and the Gap exist? That is, does a generally well-off realm known as the Functioning Core contain goods associated with globalization (wealth, peace, etc), while a realm known as the Non-Integrating Gap lack these goods?

Mountainrunner, surprisingly, appears to say the answer is no. While he does not say so directly, he notes that (in general) anything that exists in the Gap exists within the Core, and vice versa. In response to my claim that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto is not surprising because it happened in the Gap, Mountainrunner wrote:

My point is this: this is about violence and death and ideology that is not specific to Islamists or the Gap. Heads of state were targeted. The IRA reminded Thatcher they only needed to be lucky once, she needed to be lucky all the time. Italy, Greece, Hungry, etc. Take your pick and you’ll find attacks on leadership.

A similar mistake is made by those who deny the existence of “race,” or often the “generations of warfare:” a misunderstanding about what categories are.

Categories are not Platonic ideals, true forms that are immutable through time and space. Categories allow us to explain variance. That is, a categorization is useful if categories within it correlate with clusters in frequencies of some traits. Consider again the Core and the Gap. There are rich people in the Gap, and poor people in the Core. There are those with IPTV in the Gap, and those without electricity in the core. For that matter, there are gang rapes in Darfur and gang rapes in Dallas.

But the terms “Core” and “Gap” really do explain variation in these things. Don’t believe it? Run the numbers yourself. The same is true with regard to race, and my assumption is that the same is true with regards to the generation of war.

Objecting to the Core/Gap categorization because you can cite assassinations in Core countries is like objecting to the concept of race because you know some East Asians who drink milk. (Because I am unaware of any large dataset on war that’s been used to test xGW theory, sadly we’re still in the realm of mixed methods when it comes to the generations of war.)

The moral of the story: categories explain variation. That does not mean they explain all variation. That does not mean they are supposed to.

Anything else is just… unscientific.

Also on the web: Against xGW, for William Lind? On another aspect of Mountainrunner’s post.

Brave New War, Aftermath: Mountainrunner’s Review

Mountainrunner wrote a great review of Brave New War yesterday, in which he emphasized that John Robb doesn’t bother explaining the motivation for “global guerrillas”:

When Robb does go into the Why, he, like William Lind and Martin van Creveld who he cites and builds upon, oversimplifies motivations and goals to the extent of ignoring fundamental realities. Not all groups he builds his case on seek to “hollow out” the state. These little details tell us how threats grow and expand and how to shut them down. The details show that in many, if not most, of Robb’s cases it isn’t an attempt to bring down the state or hollow it out, but by a variety of reasons that built up over time. The Why is messy business and he chooses to ignore the causes behind the guerrilla movement, leading to his own catastrophic superempowerment of groups in his examples.

I agree completely. Global guerrillas are two-bit realists more concerned with bothering a government than actually winning. To my knowledge, Robb has never satisfactorily addressed the issue of the motivation of “global guerrillas.” Mountainrunner’s words were the perfect opportunity for Robb to fix this error and address real concerns.


Brave New War, by John Robb

Instead. he pens this:

Knew it was going to happen. Oh well. To tell you the truth, I kinda expected more push-back to an outsider like me from the “conference crowd” guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in Washinton. This guy is the only one to do so publicly.

Now, to the best of my knowledge Mountainrunner is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, and presumably not in a position to “guard the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in Washington.” However – demonstrating his grace — Mountainrunner’s answer is devestatingly funny:

I don’t know that I am trying to protect the “money/fantasy machine”, mostly because I don’t know what he means (a little help?). However, it does sound bad and I would probably agree the “money/fantasy machine” needs to be whacked based on name alone. Whatever it is, my issue with the book pivots on his failure to include and factor in purposes and support systems into the analysis of his guerrillas. Insight into these two not insignificant data sets can’t be dismissed or ignored, but that is just what BNW does.

Brave New War combines insight into a hurtful but ultimately harmless form of terrorism with selective use of buzzwords that flatter potential reviewers. Ultimately, however, it fails to address the issue of motivation (as MountainRunner points out). It has other problems, as well, but those are posts for another time…