Monday, April 29, 2013

The Rat Model of Terrorism

"By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation."
  Edmund Burke

Consider the rat. Honed by natural selection, it is superbly adapted to its environment. It prospers in sewers, woods, deserts, plains, jungles (concrete or vegetable) and just about everywhere else.  Its senses guide it through dark, narrow places. It gnaws or wriggles through most barriers. It eats anything and everything. It breeds prodigiously. It learns quickly, from experience and observation. It fights viciously, against other animals and its own kind. Yes, rats die a lot, but that doesn't matter because there are always more rats.

People don't like rats. They carry filth and disease into our homes. They damage our infrastructure, even the most secure. They consume and worse, contaminate, our food.

Now consider the terrorist. Except for their conscious malevolence, what's the difference?
They prosper in environments from mountains to deserts to jungles to cities. They learn, they adapt, they use our technology against us, infesting the Internet just as rats scurry along the girders of our skyscrapers. They breed, in both the biological and the psychological senses. They constantly seek to penetrate the barriers we erect against them, to avoid the traps we design. Yes, they die a lot, but others learn from each failure. There are always more.

Rats are decentralized. There may be many in one nest, but the nests are independent. Destroying one doesn't affect the others; it gives them an opportunity to expand into new territory, bringing their filth, disease and viciousness with them. As Darwin and Nietzsche would predict, whatever doesn't kill them makes them stronger, more adaptable, more vicious. And we can never kill them all.

Like rats, terrorists are decentralized. There is no central command, no secret headquarters. There are nests of violent people in every corner of the world. Wiping out one creates only a temporary respite and, ironically, the opportunity for another nest to expand.

How do people deal with a rat infestation? They protect their food supplies, barricade their buildings, set poison and traps. A farmer or rural homeowner might sit in wait with a rifle, killing as many as become visible, which isn't many. In a city that option isn't available. All of this takes time and resources, and both are limited. Rats have unlimited time and use our resources.

All the options have downsides, too. Traps and poisons kill other, innocuous creatures. Children and the foolish need to be protected from them. Barricades need maintainence. Shooting creates its own problems. Not every bullet goes where intended and in any case the shooter has other things to do. Rats don't. And, of course, in the modern world there are the soft-hearted, who lobby for and legislate the "humane" removal of creatures who would happily eat the soft-hearteds' childrens' faces.

The world's governments are in the position of the farmer or the homeowner. Each tries to buttress their homes, barns, and silos against the infestation. Sometimes they share information and advice, sometimes not, believing that if their neighbor suffers they'll gain a competitive advantage. Some, like the United States, attempt a humane policy. Others (think Russia and China), traditionally and historically brutal, don't mind inflicting collateral suffering and damage. Neither policy is successful.

Ask yourself a question: Given all the rat's evolutionary advantages, why aren't we hip-deep in them? There's an easy answer. Predators. Hawks, owls, foxes, wolves, coyotes, cats large and small, and so forth. As the rats evolved so did the predators. The same eons of natural selection have equipped predators to hunt and kill. It's how they live. Like rats, the predators are decentralized, hunting as individuals or small independent groups. Like rats, they learn quickly and well. And, very importantly, like rats they have nothing else to do.

It would be a mistake to think of predators as our friends. They prey on whatever they can catch most easily. They can be just as dangerous to us as to the rats---more so, if we're easier prey. You can't just drop a predator into an ecosystem, or you're likely to get what happened in Hawaii, where the mongoose was introduced as a way to control the rats infesting sugar cane fields. In another irony, rats were also brought by people, though inadvertently. It's a tossup as to which is now the bigger problem.

The principle applies, though. To control terrorists we need independently operating predators with nothing else to do but kill them. The challenge is predator control. How do you keep the feral cats from eating your free-range chickens, so much tastier and easier to catch than rats?

I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I had any answer. Our current policies are not only ineffective but foolish, the product of self-delusion and wishful thinking. We're not asking the right questions, because we're thinking in terms of either warfare or criminal justice, neither of which applies. We need to ask the questions an ecological model demands or we'll be living with a plague of rats for a very long time.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thoughts About Boston

                                                                    Winning and Losing

"Another such victory, and we are undone."

Almost as soon as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody, Bostonians celebrated. It was a muted celebration, to be sure, remembering the four dead and some one hundred and seventy* maimed, some horribly so. But it was a celebration nevertheless, as if a victory had been won.

In fact, nothing was won. The Boston bombing was a defeat inflicted by an implacable enemy. Not as terrible as 9/11 by any stretch of the imagination, but consider:
At a cost of two casualties, one dead and one captured, and a few thousand dollars at most, a major city was shut down for days. A massive manhunt took place, involving thousands of police. The news media of the entire country was dominated for most of a week.  Charges and counter-charges are flying between Federal agencies, prompting massive bureaucratic ass-covering. By some reckoning the incident cost a billion dollars or more, directly and indirectly. I'd be surprised if as much again wasn't spent on subsequent investigations and Tsarnaev's trial.

We can't afford it. Local, state and Federal budgets are already overstretched. Cries for more security will stretch them further. Something has to give, and I guarantee it won't be entitlements. More taxes? Fine, and watch what happens to business, then jobs, then government revenues. Welcome to Detroit, with cameras and drones. There's no good answer.

The Boston bombing was a classic cheap shot: underhanded, despicable, and effective.

* Most recent estimate: 260+

                                                              Culture Matters

"What multiculturalism boils down to is that you can praise any culture in the world except Western culture - and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture."
Thomas Sowell

Progressive philosophy is sort of schizophrenic. On one hand, progressives love to separate people into groups and celebrate their diversity. We're asked---or ordered---to attend to cultural differences, to be "sensitive," to be guilty about "majority" status and privilege. All cultures (except that of the American South) are said to have value and deserve respect. On the other hand, when member(s) of some pet culture commit a heinous act perfectly consistent with their cultural values, norms and history, we hear about individual differences. The perpetrators are aberrations, exceptions---unless, of course, driven to savagery by their majority oppressors. Only Southern white males, especially religious combat veterans, commit atrocities because of their culture. To progressives, culture matters more than the person, except when it doesn't.

No. Culture is real in the same way that individual differences are real, and both matter. Culture is associated with, among other things, differing distributions of individual attributes that render certain dispositions more likely than others. To argue otherwise is to ignore evolution, something progressives are happy to do when it suits their purposes even if they otherwise sanctify the concept.

Islam isn't a culture, of course. Saudis are not Afghans are not Indonesians are not Persians are not Chechens, ad infinitum. But might there not be some common thread that makes at least some of these people more likely to become terrorists than, say, Scottish Presbyterians are? Chechens, in particular, are some of the most vicious people on the planet.  Maybe it's because they've fought the Russians for so long. Maybe they've fought so long because they're so damn mean. Or maybe they started mean and have gotten meaner the longer they've fought. Right now it doesn't matter.

I suspect that most Chechens, like most of everyone else, just want to be left alone to live their lives. But if there's even a 5% difference between them and, say, Lebanese Muslims in the frequency of violently motivated people, that's a hell of a lot of Chechens ready to be radicalized. There's a truism in psychology, supported by a library's worth of data, that it's easier to push someone in the direction they're already leaning than in the opposite direction. Call it "psychological judo."  

Expect to see more Chechens in the news.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Torches and Pitchforks

My plainness of speech makes them hate me,
and what is their hatred, if not proof that I am
speaking the truth?

It's been a while. I haven't written because, frankly, I didn't feel that I had anything to say about current issues that someone else hadn't said first and maybe better than I could have.
There's no point in adding to the general clamor. But it's about time I provoked somebody, so here goes:

Barack Obama is pushing his gun control agenda using the parents of the murdered children of Sandy Hook as props. The parents are complicit in this charade, and that's shameful. Shameful for Obama, to be sure, and he already has much to be ashamed of. Shameful for the parents, who are allowing themselves to be the eager tools of a crass political manipulator.

Understand this: I grieve for the children, as much as anyone can who was a stranger to them. I imagine the sorrow and the rage I would feel if the victims had been my children or grandchildren, a rage that would vent itself on whatever target was handy.


That's wrong. It's wrong because that venting does no good, enhancing rather than reducing the grief one feels. It's wrong because such venting increases the sadness, the hostility, the misery in the world. It's wrong because it's yet another example of rationalizing actions driven by emotion, undermining the single aspect of humanity--our capacity for reason--that separates us from, say, chimpanzees.

That last is, of course, exactly what Obama and his co-conspirators depend on, and what they've been so successful at since 2008.

The Sandy Hook parents who appear with Obama, giving emotional cover to yet another attack on the Constitution, are the moral and intellectual equivalent of the mob in Frankenstein, identifying guns and gun owners as the monsters who murdered their children.
No, there are no real torches or pitchforks, just the much scarier weapons of the State. The real monster, Adam Lanza, is dead already, but the mob needs a villain to vent its rage on. Who better than anyone who tries to bring reason to bear on the issue? They must be monsters because they're not carrying torches and shouting.

This, too, is what Obama, his minions and his camp-followers want. "Never let a good crisis go to waste," indeed. The corollary to that is:  "When you don't have a crisis, manufacture one." That's what Obama and his sorrowful props are doing. 

For shame.