Mathematics of War – 3 – Reality, Why and Other

8 January, 2010 at 17:20 Leave a comment

A wise person (who inadvertently happens to be your parents or grandparents once you are old enough) once said that if one looks at just about anything, closely and long enough, one can always find faults, patterns, cracks. Be it images of perfect airbrushed models or character traits of arguably greatest of men like Mahatma Gandhi or cruelest of men like Adolf Hitler. So, it was no surprise that on marinating the “Common Ecology Quantifies Human Insurgency” paper (popularly – oh the horror of laying it out to the man on the street – known as ‘Mathematics of War’ or ‘Ecology of War’ depending on how stupid the publisher is) in my consciousness long enough, I found many quantitative and qualitative faults, patterns and cracks in the assumptions, data, analysis and conclusions to the extent of being tempted to say it is not entirely devoid of errors and it is not entirely out of line to say it is a load of crap – the suspect scholarship itself, evident oversimplification of ground reality by arm-chair theorizing and TED drummed hype that followed. But some stink more than the others. Like most of you who may have a life of sorts, and if not, get one, I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into details and till I see any sliver of feedback (monetory or otherwise), my detailed critique/review will remain in dark alleys of a rotten brain. This is a blog and I, and you, are entitled to my opinions. I will (try to) be brief. No promises. Here are a 1000 words for starters (with each frame and line and word having a story to tell on its own if not already so)…

The cartoon (inspired by a classic stock trading madness one by Kal of Economist which also reflects the allusion of financial markets simile) tries to address 2 things at a high level. The ‘why’ and ‘other’ side of the coin. Allow me to elaborate –
1) For a paper that flaunts to be the mathematics or ecology of war (strike-1: make up your mind), the core question of ‘why’ remains unanswered other than the broad strokes of generalizing it to violent primal animalistic human behaviour in a conflict scenario viz. ganging up and acting out of reptilian-minded self-preservation and just silly attention-seeking, message-sending, authority-opposing, loathing-fired, territory-protecting, family-first, religion-tampered, son-of-gun, honour-killing, blood-thirsty, cult-following, brain-washed, nepotism-led, arms-dealing corporate interest driven, virgin-seeking, nation-gaurding, eye-for-an-eye revenge. Out of the 6 wise questions of who, when, where, what, why and how of anything, it is the ‘why’ that is always most important and difficult one to answer. Unsurprisingly, it is not always forthcoming and so is the case with the current research/paper/letter/talk/hype/site in question. My answer to ‘why’ is not my answer because it has been addressed before. In any conflict, the main reason for all the tomfoolery is primarily a result of ye-olde mis-communication and bad decision-making. People act irrationally (or whatever it is the paper insinuates) because for all the wisdom of the world, groups only serve the purpose of amplifying stupidity and at discrete time-steps under pressure with only incomplete information and shrouded judgment as a way of life and we don’t have to observe a conflict to come to that conclusion. It is kinda obvious from shopping to ordering pizza. Patterns. Patterns. Everywhere
2) The paper does not address the most important element to any conflict which is the ‘other’ side. It paints the terrorists (putting on my linguist hat ala Chomsky, this is a wrong word in itself because if it is used, it automatically implies the branded-as-such people as bad which is just one point-of-view) as villains from the word go and does not give due weight to the acts of the ‘other’ side, say the state police or occupying USA troops in Afghanistan. If you ask me, the patterns of behaviour of the ‘other’ side are just as irrational and fueled by internal politics (no matter how hierarchical they are organized) and media sound-bytes as the insurgents (again, a bad and violent word that should not have been used in interests of neutrality). We all know it takes two to tango or two hands to make a clap or no smoke without fire or every action has an opposite reaction or what goes round comes around and such idioms. Not considering/mentioning, let alone understanding the role of the ‘other’ side and how they influence/provoke behaviour of freedom-fighters (terrorists by other name), is like saying – well, I cannot think of a suitable analogy because there are so many of them that apply here – the insurgents are evil by birth and all that the paper is trying to do, in a fly-on-wall (when it really should be cat-on-wall) manner is quantify their evil-doings somewhat like an overbearing God who at the same time turns a blind eye at the misdemeanours of his chosen people. It’s just plain wrong. Besides, there are too many Gods already responsible for much mess that has/going/will in the world but discussing religion is slightly off-topic, no?
When seen with that lens of favouritism, it is of course obvious that patterns can be identified in the reactions (yes, not actions) of insurgents. Suffice to say that what we are seeing here is simply a human collective not showing the other cheek when slapped and that maybe, just maybe, we should perhaps be more concerned why did the slap happen and importantly, whose hand is it that was raised leading to harakiri? Again, there will be patterns to series of events that led to this situation. So, my question is this: Can we identify “that” pattern of circumstances that triggers insurgency? I believe we can (if one looks closely and long enough goes without saying). If so, that will be the right path to understand misunderstandings. To the best of my knowledge from private communication, Sean Gourley is already at work along these lines and I hope whatever comes out of that is not half as bad as the paper we are discussing, er, opiniating. Lest I forget, as for the errors in data and analysis, I informally tried applying their methods to Kashmir situation and I was disappointed and felt cheated. The first thing that came into my mind was that maybe my data was not clean or my interpretations of the paper and formulae. It takes a great and beautiful mind to accept mistakes. Mine is certainly not. So there.

    PS: If you are wondering what happened to part-2 of series, well, keep wondering. I did not think it was worth my typing and am famously lazy. You are however free to think of it as a forced workshop on imagining or maybe, Quentin Tarantino stylism

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