The Global Crisis of Legitimacy

The main thrust of John Robb’s thesis in Brave New War – and the focus of much of his writing at Global Guerrillas – was the globalization of terrorism and the proliferation of tactics and “best practices” across borders. The same applies to nonstate movements writ large, as Branko Milanovic writes:

Revolutions of 2019, I think, presage a new breed of globalist revolutions. They are not part of the same and easily recognizable ideological pattern. They respond to local causes, but have a global element in the ability of communicate with each other (Catalan protesters imitated blockade of public infrastructure started by the Hong Kong protesters). Perhaps more importantly, they encourage each other: if Chileans are able to stand up, why not Colombians? If there is a single ideological glue to them, it is, I think, desire to have one’s voice heard. At the time of tectonic political shifts where politicians and old ideologies have lost much of their credibility, a thing which has not lost its credibility is the desire and the right to be heard and counted.

The present global crisis is one of legitimacy, of the right to be heard and to participate in the mechanisms of governance. Much of that can be attributed to political elites, and by extension capital, wanting to surrender none of their advantages, no matter the consequences. Watching from abroad at demonstrations around the world, united not in common cause so much as a common grievance, the question remains when the fires might spread here. The United States is suffering from no less a democratic deficit than many other nations but has yet to see similar outbreaks of political protest on such a scale.

I do wonder if the lack of ideological coherence across these movements will prove counterproductive or indeed, even further contribute to the sense of a worldwide crackup. The ability to adopt effective tactics without requiring adherence to a particular cause might well make some of the smaller separatist movements and other localist phenomena more viable, enabling even minor movements to achieve some measure of success (even if just recognition). But in any event, it’s clear that across the globe, governments must pay more heed to the governed, lest the widening gyre open into an abyss.

Big Bust in the Big Apple, Cont’d

New development from the ongoing Times Square car bomb story:

Police and federal agents on Sunday were reviewing surveillance footage that shows a possible suspect in the failed Times Square car bombing, describing him as a white man in his 40s who was walking away from the area where the vehicle was parked, looking furtively over his shoulder and removing a layer of clothing, officials said [emphasis mine].

Is it possible that the poorly-veiled, separatist, militia-oriented, violent uprising-style rhetoric of the ignorant sectors of the right has taken root? In case you need a reminder:

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45 [emphasis mine].

One nut begets another. Black swans on the horizon…

A Confluence of Hate

Hey, kids! Can you count the things wrong with this?

Hot on the heels of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report “Rage on the Right” comes the mechanized embodiment of that hatred. The license plate represents a missed opportunity on the part of the Virginia DMV, though to be fair, the symbology is rather obscure to normal people (and those who haven’t seen The West Wing):

The DMV agreed that the plate contains a coded message: The number 88 stands for the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, doubled to signify “Heil Hitler,” said CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper. “CV” stands for “Confederate veteran” — the plate was a special model embossed with a Confederate flag, which Virginia makes available for a $10 fee to card-carrying members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And 14 is code for imprisoned white supremacist David Lane’s 14-word motto: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Obviously one license plate on one pickup truck in one state of the Union is hardly emblematic of a coming tide of hate-based violence, but the brazenness with which it’s displayed is probably cause for concern. Hate and militia groups are on the rise, but unlike the paranoid groups of the Clinton years, these ones are openly carrying arms and declaring themselves in opposition to the United States government. The recent terrorism committed by Joe Stack and John Patrick Bedell are only the most obvious manifestations of the movement.

The DMV has since revoked the plates, but as one commenter asks, were they really the most inflammatory part?

Via Isegoria.

Another Canary

Smoke billowed from a seven-story building after a small private plane crashed into a building that houses an office of the federal tax agency in Austin, Tex.

The Metro Gunman – John Patrick Bedell –  who shot two policemen at the Pentagon metro station on Thursday, is the second anti-government terrorist to attack in as many weeks. Joe Stack was the first. While their respective manifestos differ in focus, they share a number of common elements that indicates there is more to come. Bedell is more of a conspiracy theorist (particularly harping on James Sadow, the marine killed in 1991) and wanted to establish “the truth of events such as the September 11 demolitions.”

We haven’t reached critical mass yet, but we’re getting there. Stack and now Bedell are each a “canary in the coal mine,” as John Robb puts it. He lays out three main drivers for this kind of terrorism: extreme frustration/hopelessness, few mitigating influences, and rage and a loss of government legitimacy. And while Stack and Bedell do have their differences, the crucial part is that they both came to the same conclusion.

Continue reading

Rethinking the U.S.

Chirol, long-time blogger at Coming Anarchy, has struck out on his own and started a new blog, Rethinking the United States.  He plans to cover a lot of ground, mostly serving to answer the question “does the United States serve its purpose?” His welcome post lists the topics to be covered as:

sustainability, autonomy, devolution, decentralization, political identity and loyalty,  political organization, self organization, superempowerment, technology, resilience in general and resilient communities.

Other related and more directly political topics and of great personal interest to the author will be Libertarianism, civil liberties, small government and firearms though they will almost always come back to the topic at hand.

Sounds like a perfect synthesis of stuff that I’m interested in. I cannot wait to see what he comes up with.

Brave New War: A Review

I had the pleasure of reading John Robb’s Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization over the last week. I’ve been familiar with his excellent blog, Global Guerrillas, for some time now, but reading the framework that he’s constructed for his own analyses has added a great deal of depth to my own understanding of his philosophy. Robb has a peculiar style of interpreting news and events, and one that’s very much influenced me. His predictions may not come true, but regardless, he has laid out some fine groundwork even just as a futurist.

Continue reading

The Church of Knowledge

Kevin Carey writes in Democracy Now about the ‘quality’ of colleges in the United States. Comparing higher education to the Catholic church, he describes the modern university as in institution terrified of actually trying to evaluate how well they’re teaching. Answerable to no one, accountable to none, non-profit colleges try to maximize reputation rather than profits, including gaming the U.S. News & World Report rankings. I can speak from experience here: my own undergraduate college was unceremoniously dropped from the list in 2005. This came solely because we stopped looking at S.A.T. scores, which were a quantifiable measure of – I don’t know, something – an ability to take tests, and we were duly punished. Yet, the college flourishes, admission has only grown more selective, and I don’t for a minute think less of Sarah Lawrence for her absence from the USNWR tables.

After moving from the unique style of an SLC education to that of the British university, the biggest difference is in fact the alumni donation/endowment-based system of private American colleges. It seems like a bad idea from the start – too close to a business/consumer model, but not actually responsible in the same way. The British schools can count on receiving their funding from the Exchequer each year; they have the benefit of stability. But it’s in fact the endowment system that allows students to change their educational experience while it’s happening. Schools that rely on alumni donations (especially true for those with smaller endowments) must address the needs of current students, whether they be shortages in the curriculum or draconian alcohol policies. Otherwise they risk losing a lifelong source of income, in a state of even further dependence than a business.

Carey misses this almost entirely: “If bad teaching created negative publicity or materially affected the ability of college presidents to recruit students and raise money from alumni, presidents would have much stronger incentives to tackle reform head-on.” So then, is the problem that the alumni of prestigious schools are all idiots, unable to realize they were fleeced? Not sure how to remedy this.

It could be pointed out that the future alumni donation model merely ensures that the wealthiest students have the loudest voices, but I’d have to disagree. A college doesn’t know who’s going to be wealthy or not down the road. It could produce a world-renowned director/producer or a White House Chief of Staff who majored in dance. It’s the ultimate equalizer, and the inverse relationship between the size of a college and its dependence on alumni donations means that the most supportive, responsive colleges will be the tiny liberal arts ones. The big universities are too big to learn. Lectures tell you, seminars engage you (even if some smart people think otherwise).

Carey’s prescription is for new modeling and quantitative assessments of teaching quality and other intangibles. The problem with this (as with all sociological attempts at structuring human behavior) is that it’s too individualistic and subjective a measurement to boil down to a formula. The NSSE and the CLA, even if accurate, merely tell you how a given college is. What’s truly needed is an instrument to change how that college will be. Students should affect their own destiny.

What it comes down to is a need for decentralizing higher education. Harvard as the Ma Bell of universities?

Why They Fight

They hate us because we don’t know why they hate us.” The perceived ignorance of Americans as to the wider world around them was often cited as a compelling reason for the mass murder of several thousand citizens on September 11, 2001. Low scores on math and science, and the inability of two-thirds of Americans between eighteen and twenty-four years old to locate Iraq on a map in 2006 merely perpetuated this claim; that somehow American geographical ignorance is responsible for jihadists and regional strife around the world.

This is of course not the only suggested explanation for conflict in the developing world. Essentially, all the arguments put forth can be summarized as pertaining to ‘greed’, or monetary and personal gain, and ‘grievance’, i.e., ideological and cultural clashes. Abridging the vast array of motives to these two is oversimplifying the matter to begin with; further choosing one of the two as the sole factor would be downright spurious. Complicating matters is the tendency to use the ‘pre-modern’ character of third world conflicts to build an intellectual bridge back to the very beginning of history. Continue reading


Salena Zito on the perils of the big tent. “Competing agendas” is certainly one way to put it. More realistically, there’s no more single grand unifying idea for liberals or the progressive movement. It’s a series of policy initiatives with no common thread. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for health care (and this reform doesn’t go nearly far enough), but until you can package it as part of a greater big idea, you won’t get many takers.

Both parties have seen splinter groups and fringe movements, but there’s a chance we’re on the verge of something much more fundamental.