Friday, July 27, 2007

"...eventually, the application of our military power will mirror the dominant threat to a significant degree. In other words, we morph into a military of superempowered individuals fighting wars against superempowred individuals"

- Vice-Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski and Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett (1)

"First, very few people would be needed to carry out the attack. A single individual could spread a nationwide pandemic using a highly contagious virus. A two person team would be sufficient to deploy and detonate a couple of nuclear weapons"

- Dr. Fred C. Ikle, Annihilation From Within

"In fact, we may have seen the the first of 5GW in the anthrax and ricin attacks on Capitol Hill. To date, neither has been solved. Apparently a small group, perhaps an individual, decided to take on the power of the United States."

- Colonel T.X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone

"Over time, perhaps as little as in twenty years, and as the leverage provided by technology increases, this threshold will finally reach its culmination - with the ability of one man to declare war on the world and win."

- John Robb, Brave New War

To a paraphrase Karl Marx, a specter is haunting general staffs, intelligence agencies and statesmen the world over, the coming of the superempowered individual. No one quite knows what form the superempowered individual will take, but the devolution of increasingly powerful and versatile technologies at continually descending costs into the hands of individuals, coupled with the increasing interdependency of complex systems due to globalization, make their arrival all but inevitable.

As it stands now, the world is but one self-sacrificing genetic microbiologist away from a superempowered suicide bomber riding international air routes to a new black plague. However, the advancing edge of technology is the province of scientists and imaginative futurists, and even they are unable to predict how emerging technology will be employed for novel uses the inventors never intended. Therefore, I will leave speculating on the means of plausible superempowered warfare to others who are better qualified but human nature, being a more reliable variable, may be within our grasp to comprehend.

Defining Superempowerment:

Superempowered individuals are not mere terrorists with bigger, badder, car bombs. Imad Fayez Mugniyah and even Timothy McVeigh, who carried out thev Oklahoma City bombing in what must have been a very small and insular cell of extremists, are not the models despite their impressive accomplishments at mass murder. Nor are the great monster-rulers of the past like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin who were State-empowered leaders acting through the vast governmental apparatus of the nation-state. To qualify as a superempowered individual, the actor must be able to initiate a destructive event, fundamentally with their own resources, that cascades systemically on a national, regional or global scale. They must be able to credibly, "declare war on the world". Who could or would desire to do such a thing?

The Psychology of the Superempowered Individual:

A useful prototype for the coming superempowered individual, though he never achieved or intended a systemic level of mass carnage, would be the Unabomber, Dr. Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski, a brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician turned radical environmentalist and terrorist. Kaczynski, who spent years in relative penury in a wooden shack, possessing minimal financial resources, nevertheless managed to elude the FBI for seventeen years while carrying out an intermittant bombing campaign. Ultimately, Kaczynski's terrorism resulted in the showcasing of his weird,anti-technology, ideology ( the "Unabomber Manifesto") in the two premier media outlets of the American Establishment, The New York Times and The Washington Post, and subsequently his message went on to permeate much of the global media. While Kaczyinski's body count and record of mayhem were relatively modest, considered in terms of a cost-to-benefit ratio and information operations, he might be the most successful terrorist of modern times.

Kaczynski demonstrated four characteristics that are likely to be shared with superempowered individuals:

a) "Lone Wolf" actor
b) Superior Intelligence
c) Opportunity for leveraging Complex Systems
d) Profound alienation, isolation or societal disconnection

Kaczinski's work as a student and professional academic in higher mathematics were regarded as highly impressive by his mentor and colleagues and reputedly his IQ was rated between 160 and 170 ( 2). While there is considerable debate among psychometricians about quantifying the upper limits of human intelligence, whatever the scale used, Kaczynski's mental capacity would safely fall within the upper 0.5 % of the population and represents an outlier of ability. Most likely, the Unabomber's level of IQ substantially exceeds what would be required to operate as a superempowered individual and the population base for such actors would be the upper 5 %; those people capable of understanding, calculating or estimating the probable outcome of multiple interacting variables.

According to testimony from family members and associates, Kaczynski suffered from emotional and social deficits relative to his unusual intellectual gifts and has been described variously as clinically paranoiac or schizophrenic by psychiatrists and psychologists. Kaczynski's psychological profile reports his social alienation from his peers starting even before the onset of adolescence (3). By the time of his terrorist career, Kaczynski was writing vitriolic letters to family members, accusing them of abuse and harrassment and his immediate social network was virtually non-existent. Mental or emotional disturbance, especially forms of clinical depression, coincides with unusually high levels of productive creativity, while the unusual sensitivity of profoundly gifted individuals can make them ripe for disappointment(4).

Complex systems provide the opportunity or environment for superempowered individuals to initiate system perturbations or cascading effects that ripple across multiple systems, including the political, economic and physical. Kaczynski's manifesto (as well as his targeting of airlines and technologists) clearly indicated that he grasped, however warped his agenda, the concept of interacting systems and downstream effects. Intelligence and will are not enough; the actor must have or conspire to gain access to a "choke point" from which he can, in jujitsu fashion, leverage the connectivity of a complex system against itself.

Alienation is a useful psychological precursor to cultivating a lack of empathy and devaluation, dehumanization and demonization of intended categories of victims. Adolf Hitler's earliest recorded anti-semitic diatribe comes in a letter written in 1919, giving the future Fuhrer two decades to steel himself before taking concrete steps to enact " the Final Solution". The doctoral dissertations of Pol Pot's collaborators, Hou Yuon and Khieu Samphan, laid out the basis of Khmer Rouge policy way back in 1955. It may be that such long term "mental rehearsals" are required to desensitize or justify the execution of systemic violence and that we would see such a pattern in the lives of superempowered individuals.

What Can Be Done?:

In terms of defense against superempowered individuals, the best option is engineering resilience and redundancy into all our critical systems and platforms, physical as well as social and political. We must with determination, lower our societal vulnerability to catastrophic attack so that back-up systems and third order contingencies " short-circuit" the attack of a superempowered individual on our power, economic, communication and governmental networks. Tom Barnett, John Robb and most of all Steve DeAngelis , have all been preaching the gospel of resilience but the Federal government has yet to make this a priority .

Secondly, (and frankly, I'm not certain how this should be best implemented) we need to address reconnecting mildly disturbed but very talented ( and thus, potentially, exceptionally dangerous) people to wider social support and mental health networks before they wander irrevocably into the isolated realm of delusional violence. Rarely, if ever, do people just "snap" and commit heinous atrocities out of the blue. Instead, there is a prior pattern of drifting away, of eccentric and increasingly belligerent behavior over time until the individual, in isolated rage, mounts toward a crisis and lashes out at the world.

Unfortunately, a superempowered individual will do more than simply barricade himself in his house or shoot up a work place. Instead, he will try to take a good chunk of society with him and will have the capability to do so. We have a window of opportunity now to create strategies to deal with these eventualities and it should not be wasted.


1. Barnett, Thomas P.M. and Cebrowski, Arthur K. " The American Way of War", Transformation Trends, January 2003.
2. Time.com Community Transcript " The Unabomber Trial" November 12 1997
3. Johnson, Sally C. "Psychological Evaluation of Theodore Kaczynski"
4. Simonton, Dean Keith "Are Genius and Madness Related? Contemporary Answers to an Ancient Question", Psychiatric Times. June 2005 Vol. XXII Issue 7


Tom Barnett:
"My own personal 5GW dream"

John Robb:
"Lots of discussion of what 5GW is"

Shlok Vaidya:
"What Should Superempowered Individuals Do?"
"5GW And Beyond"

"Dreaming 5th Generation War"


Glittering Eye:
"Zenpundit on the Super-Empowered Individual"

Dreaming 5GW :
"Rule-sets, System Perturbations and 5GW"
"Barnettian 5GW"

Wolf Pangloss:
"Fifth Generation Warfare: Conspiracy and Shadow Government"

Labels: , , , ,

To qualify as a superempowered individual, the actor must be able to initiate a destructive event

Why? The superempowerd individual comes out of Friedman's "Lexus and the Olive Tree," and he uses it both positively and negatively.
Sociopaths don't spring forth fully grown like Athena from the brow of Zeus, consequently, I think there are prerequisites that go a little beyond the defining characteristics you list above, Mark.

For example, the absence of a belief system that strongly discourages such behaviors or, indeed, a belief system that can be construed, however improperly, as encouraging such behaviors would seem to me to be a requirement. I don't think there's any substitute for believing in eternal damnation.

Secondly, a social environment in which isolation is idealized is important, too. Fewer prophets and more disciples. More John Ford, less Ayn Rand.

A bureaucracy disposed to overlook problems when they're small and manageable may be important, too. Note that Ted Kaczynski was enabled for decades by family, friends, and school systems before he became the Unabomber.

Why was Osama bin Laden Osama bin Laden? I can't help but think that a social milieu in which wealth and power were seen as the direct favor of God (rather than something that developed out of interaction with other people) played a role.
The roots -- or earliest examples and greatest development -- of superempowered individuals are found in science fiction. See Verne's "The Master of the World", the various Mad Scientists of 1930's Superman comic books. Oddly, has the Joint Chiefs have learned about this danger, this motif is no longer popular in sci fi & comic books.

Before we pop our mental corks with worry, ignoring far more pressing threats, we might wait for a real-world instance to appear.

The unabomber was a pest in a Nation where 50,000 die each year in auto accidents, let along a world of so many billions.

Oil prices are zooming. The US dollar, bedrock of our status as a superpower, is only 3% above its all-time lows (measured by the Fed's major currency index). We're trapped in Iraq, our military slowly eroding away.

There are more serious things about which to worry.
Hi Dan,

I think the vast majority of exceptionally intelligent and creative ppl are basically nice, or at least, not ill-intentioned toward the rest of us. So yes, the positive ones will be the rule, not the ones who "declare war on the world" - but the latter are the ones who will cause problems.

Hi Dave,

I would agree that ideologies, secular and religious moral codes would act as inhibitors (or incentives). Cults and tightly-knit extremist political groups can make a virtue of their alienation/isolation. Some ppl can also "feel" completely and deeply alienated while superficially appearing to be fully integrated members of society with families, jobs, etc.


Why worry about peak oil when our global refinery capacity and petroleum infrastructure is inadequate for the demand we have now ? We worry because eventualities should be considered in the long as welll as short term.

So yes, there are more pressing problems but that doesn't mean that SEI's will be no more than a nuisance.
I differ with FabMax in that I believe this *is* a topic worthy of dialog. Technology and integrated communications allow SEIs (or small collectives of SEIs) to invoke massive damage on our infrastructure. It is far more prudent to consider methods of containing (or constraining) them before we have "case studies" to review.

That said, I am skeptical of your second solution. While some Unabombers may simply need adoration and affection to rejoin "society", most will eschew such comforts.

I believe the reason Kaczynski was able to evade the FBI for so long was because of his isolationist penury. Our civil defense infrastructures are optimized to protect us against the threats they can see -- not the threats that are invisible to the Matrix.

This is the genius behind Steve DeAngelis's vision of Enterprise Resilience: can terrorism be made irrelevant by inoculating our systems to allow adaptability and continuity, and to protect the value chain in the face of adversity?

Absent a science officer like Mr. Spock who can peer into a sensor display and determine the number of life forms on a planet, and ostensibly their intentions, Enterprise Resilience may be the next best thing...
There is considerable refining capacity under construction (e.g., India, Middle East). Just not in the US. Which makes sense, as North American production has peaked.

Demand has surged since 2003. Caught the industry by surprise, as did the increased role of heavy/sour oil in the mix. But the response is well under way, and much new capacity will come online in the next 5 years.

This means, of course, that the US will be importing more oil products than crude -- another industrial process we have outsourced abroad.

Much of the current problems in the US result from the EPA's massive increase in regulations and increased standards for refinery safety and inspections. Probably just short-term factors.
All those 5GW links at the end and barely a single mention of 5GW in the article (one that I would argue is incorrect).

To me this begs a question. Are SEIs just a facet of 5GW or is 5GW an expression of SEIs and SEIs alone? What is the relationship between the two?
Hi Arherring,

IMHO, SEI are/will be a facet of 5GW, though what proportion of 5GW they may represent is unknown.

I suppose a case can be made, William Lind might make it, that they are the culmination of 4GW's devolution of power to the lowest common denominator. I disagree. Once you reach the level of an individual or even a very small group, much of the importance of the moral level of warfare and legitimacy becomes completely irrelevant. Most SEI's will not or would not intend to survive the cataclysms they wish to set off.
The Superempowered Individual (tm Friedman?) is just a capable, megalomaniacal sociopath. It's the great man theory of history in different language. Do not mistake me, I think the great man theory is largely correct. Europe wouldn't have gotten to where it is without Napoleon turning France into a fascist empire and Marx codifying the Terror into doctrine.

For instance, if Adnan Shukrijumah is everything he's rumored to be, then he's a dangerous assassin: Carlos the Jackal with nukes. Keyser Soze come to life. The Jihadist James Bond. I have no doubt that we have his match on our side, no matter how capable he is. But the Jihadists have a head start. For they could have illegally immigrated years ago.
I think you 4GW guys have gone off the deep end again into lala land with the koolaid.

Marc, super empowered individuals, and small groups of exceptional persons, have always been around. Think Pasteur, the wright brothers or James Watson. And if you want examples of ones from warfare look no further than Boyds Patterns of Conflict briefing. The majority of military history is made up of persons with better military ideas, like Napoleon or Mao, and small groups who waged terror, like the Mongol raiding parties or German infiltration teams.

If anything, it's not that superempowered individuals are some new phenemonon, it's that large groups, especially governments, are generally hopeless and filled with mediocre staff. Thank god terrorists and our enemies are useless, witness the latest attack in England for example, if they were competent we'd be in real trouble.
Rejoining marginalized individuals to society: that's a laudable goal even without the worry about SEIs. Any blogposts forthcoming about how it could be done?

A military of SEIs: what on earth would it look like? GI Joe? Section 9? Does an approximate example even exist, fictional or non? Where does one start?
you wrote:

we need to address reconnecting mildly disturbed but very talented ( and thus, potentially, exceptionally dangerous) people to wider social support and mental health networks before they wander irrevocably into the isolated realm of delusional violence.

If you are genuinely concerned about doing what is right, start by examining Szasz and the anti-psychiatry movement.

Society itself is far crazier than Kaczinski and his ilk.

Apply anti-psychiatry to reform the decadent prison-industrial complex and its state religion, psychiatry.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Zenpundit - a NEWSMAGAZINE and JOURNAL of scholarly opinion.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

Determined Designs Web Solutions Lijit Search
02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 / 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 / 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 / 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 / 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 /

follow zenpundit at http://twitter.com
This plugin requires Adobe Flash 9.
Get this widget!
Sphere Featured Blogs Powered by Blogger StatisfyZenpundit

Site Feed Who Links Here
Buzztracker daily image Blogroll Me!