Chuck Hagel says focus on ISIS. First, a few paragraphs on an alternative mode of analysis that might be provocative to foreign policy decision makers.
Sociobiology offers an understanding of the ISIS phenomenon in a way not afforded by traditional religion, or philosophy. The conception of life as “divine spark” brought with it theodicy, the question of why there is evil in the world. This obscures another possibility, that the roots of ISIS are common to human nature, though normally suppressed by an ecosystem of ideas acting as life forms. This was explored in Ideas as Life Forms.
Thinking in terms of good and evil obscures the dynamics that the life form concept exposes. Good and evil are static definitions. While one can grow at the expense of the other, the science of dynamical systems was unanticipated by our traditions, except in the lurid illuminations of eschatology. For practical purposes, even without abandoning your principles, you might consider using sociobiology to strategize about ISIS. Stranger bedfellows of thought have been embraced in the human mind.
Sociobiology is both immature and subject to the distorting influences of prejudice and social pressure, as well as the well known and utterly notorious failure of experimental psychology to produce replicable results. Most studies in psychology are later found, by the standards of other sciences, to be wrong. The comparative strength of sociobiology is in experimental results with lower organisms, and the general hypothesis of applicability, with varying strength, to humans. The current use of sociobiology is the generation of something more than hypotheses and less than facts, namely, plausible explanations.
The Japanese have an expression for an aspect of human nature, the inner “anger insect” that, according to the culture, the holder must suppress. It is a remarkably simple statement about something which western culture embroiders with a rich but obscuring tapestry of morality and philosophy about free choice. But the unbridled egotism of every infant gives a clear view of the insect. The idea that it remains a potential in the adult is not really acknowledged in the West. According to western religions, various sacrements nullify it as a moral issue.
But the recent spate of mass murders by young men in their twenties make the insect a practical issue. According to tradtional thought, the sacrements were foregone. But an example of bacteria, promoted forward in time by sociobiology, suggests that ideas with competitive advantage in propagation are the most durable things around. “Quorum sensing” is one of them. Prior, bacteria were divided between those which are pathogenic, causing disease, and nonpathogenic, which do not. There followed context dependent pathogenicity. But the discovery that bacteria communicate volubly by chemical means was followed in short order that they are capable of mob violence.
With bacteria, mob violence is the decision by a group of bacteria, based upon their number and concentration, that they can take over and destroy the host. It is innate in many species of bacteria that are normal constituents of the human biome. Bacteria living comfortably and harmlessly in the nose, skin, or intestine, cultured externally to sufficiently high concentrations, become deadly. This is a form of the opportunistic pathogen. But the new idea, compatible with sociobiology, is that this is thought without a thinker. But since the physical basis of the brain is chemical, it should not seem as strange as it does that bacterial thought is mediated by exchange of chemical signals.
When slaughter by a male in his twenties seems to inspire similar crimes, we call it copycat. When a bunch of murderous males in their twenties communicate via social media, we call it legitimization. When a cohesive group forms of murderous males in their twenties, we call it a cult. The three words are unified by quorum sensing, which in humans takes the form of a primitive group mind, the collective behavior of the “inner insect.”
Contrasting with the popular view of the “war on terror” as a long war, Hagel expresses urgency, which might be an acknowledgement that unlike the West’s timeless battle between Good and Evil, idea based life form are time dependent. Comparison with the exponential growth of bacteria would be simplistic, but power laws, sums of X to the nth power, are convenient approximations of growth. And any growth leads to the point of the quorum, achieved when ISIS became pathogenic to Iraq.
Hagel wants to establish priorities that
- Are at odds with U.S. policy towards the Assad regime, which seems based on misbegotten hope for early reconstruction of the rule of law.
- Would be highly irritating to Turkey, a member of NATO, whose concern about dismemberment by Kurds is real.
- Interfere with the “no boots on the ground” policy of disengagement.
- Provoke concern about creating a stage for Russia to resume the U.S./Soviet version of the Middle East Great Game.
The idea of ISIS has not been understood as a dynamical process, so it has been everybody’s lesser problem. That ISIS could behave as a population sensing quorum, acquiring something that years ago might have been called critical mass, is novel. But the growth of ISIS popularity in American social media cannot be ignored.
Hagel’s priorities, disrespecting policy, would inevitably change the map. Perhaps he understands the danger of a runaway dynamical process. His innovation draws comparison to the misbegotten drive of American neoconservatives to forge a new Iraqi nation from the ground up. That mistake may be a significant cause of the current caution, but there are differences.
- The neoconservative policy in Iraq was created in isolation from the actual theater, mainly as a recombinant synthesis of conservative American politics.
- The origin of Hagel’s initiative is a combination of reactive and proactive, the ratios of which are known only to those who were in the room. Reactive has a negative connotation, because it means you didn’t see it coming. With proactive comes the danger of the imagined threat. But on a case-by-case basis, either can beat policy, which simply means that all the thinking has been done already.
Law acquires reverence in the minds of lawyers. Without law, what would there be? With sentiment mixed with cynicism, the alternative, no law, inspires horror in the legal mind. To the legal mind, an alternative explanation for the current situation is the absence of law. This is partly valid, but lacks the predictive value of sociobiology. Obama and Kerry are lawyers. Alternatives to current policy encounter obstacles analogous to laws, treaties, alliances, and vacant political structures. It is very difficult for a lawyer of high moral caliber to abandon respect for these structures, no matter how vacant. That some of these could be reconstructed in a later time is too much of a leap.
Let the following not be construed as a high-five for conservative free enterprise. Hagel’s career was business. As a successful CEO, Hagel’s environment did not have the cushion of infinite failure permitted of U.S. foreign policy under both parties. Unless Hagel is a universal problem solver, his particular background facilitated an approach to this problem, which retrospection suggests is superior.
There are no universal backgrounds. Each decision maker has a background that implies a context for problem solving and a chance for excellence in one area. None have excelled in all the areas: domestic, foreign, economy, social improvement, justice, and so forth. Democracy, the safeguard of liberty, has nothing to say about how the actual process of decision making, by people in a room, could be improved.
We are left with the question: How can a president be more than the individual self?