Syria: Predicting Rebel Atrocities

The better known, famous aspect of intelligence is “clandestine.” By spying, information is obtained about the intentions of governing elites, and military and technological secrets. But while clandestine intelligence might give us a peak behind the curtain, it offers little of the stage itself, the masses of humanity. In the middle east, as elsewhere, the elites manipulate the masses, who in turn reflect back on the elites with what some call the zeitgeist, the “spirit of the times.”  If  the West is favorably distinguished from this dynamic, perhaps Walter Lippmann offers the best explanation of how western democracy actually works.

Perhaps surprisingly, clandestine intelligence informs poorly on this dynamic. It might tell us that a particular leader intends to manipulate public opinion in his country in a certain way, but it does not explain why the leader expects the zeitgeist to be receptive. Open source approaches are much better at this. The classic example is the rise of Adolf Hitler. The zeitgeist of German society was primed for the event, waiting only for someone to step into the role.

In Wall Street Journal: “Aleppo Is Obama’s Sarajevo”, I wrote,

Presently, the deaths of rebel atrocities number only a few dozen at a time, scarcely reported in the press. But what if they found it expeditious to kill more? The history of new revolutionary states is that of bloodbath.

If open source is truly a craft, the statement is insufficiently justified. The counter could be, “You’re assuming the worst about people; you have no objective, or even systematic justification.”

Open source imposes on the thinking of the liberal arts, drawing liberally and in bastardized fashion from mathematics and the hard sciences. We must, because the requirement is to actually decide something that can be practical input into further processes of decision. In  2000 years, philosophers couldn’t build a car. We don’t have 2000 years.

So, following the shining example of Lofti A. Zadeh, who invented fuzzy logic, we appropriate a concept from mathematics,  the “least upper bound”. Simplified and bastardized, this means some kind of a function, the LUB, that can be graphed above another function, or distribution, so that it is always greater. Things cannot go higher, or get better, than the least upper bound.

The LUB is offered by the (Reuters) Saudi attack on on a mourning ceremony that killed 140. I’ll now borrow Zadeh’s phrase “fuzzy logic” and repurpose it to get a LUB. This is not Zadeh’s system.

The LUB is a behavioral prediction, of  the level of Syrian rebel atrocities were they to assume a governing role. It asserts that the rebels cannot behave better than the bound. Think of the number of atrocities as a downward increasing arrow. Saudi Arabia, an advanced society, is used to generate the LUB. The “>” symbol is the math symbol for “greater than”, which is used here to signify both a higher moral plane and a more disciplined society:

  • Saudi ethics are highly organized and rigorous, > (better) than Syria rebel ethics.
  • Saudi military are highly disciplined > Syria rebel discipline.

This offers a 2-axis LUB. It asserts that the rebels cannot do better (behave better) than this. If you like, you can swap “<” for  “>” and replace LUB with GLB, the greatest lower bound. The number of rebel atrocities is now bounded from below, as in “cannot be less than.”

How much worse would the rebels be?  Here’s an off-the-cuff social theory:

  • With centralization, the Saudis have a limited number of “actors”, where an actor is a nucleus of people who make a single decision.
  • Each actor has a limited appetite for atrocity. Having killed 140, the responsible Saudi actor might not want more blood right away.
  • The Syrian rebels contain many more independent actors.
  • The potential for atrocity =  number-of-actors X the number of atrocities per actor.

The product  is much greater.



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