Super-Empowered Individuals and 5GW: Heads or Tails.
Originally posted on 8/9/07 at Dreaming 5GW.
As globalization economically and socially connects the world , its citizens are paid in the metaphorical ‘coin’ of super-empowerment. However, like a coin, super-empowerment has two sides. You cannot enjoy the benefits of the positive side without the negative flip side. Super-empowerment exploited by the actions of Super-Empowered Angry Men.
On the positive side of the coin is the super-empowerment that defines, for example, the writings of Thomas P. M. Barnett and Thomas L. Friedman. In this sense of the concept, everyone has the potential to be super-empowered. This type of super-empowerment comes from technology and connectivity but essentially from knowledge. Even more precisely, super-empowerment provides the ability to accumulate, disseminate and leverage knowledge. Like a tide that raises all ships, this is the kind of super-empowerment that strengthens societies and creates opportunities. This is expressed as freedom, democracy, capitalism and international trade. I think of this as the empowerment of choice. This positive super-empowerment empowers others.
The opposite side of the coin is often described by the writings and theories of Robert Kaplan and John Robb, and championed by the actions of Angry Men like Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh. Fundamentally speaking, these Super-Empowered Angry Men are no different than other super-empowered individuals. These Angry super-empowered individuals also enjoy the benefits of technology and connectivity, but in their hands it is used to cause disruption and destruction, to harm rather than to help. Super-Empowered Angry Men usually justify their actions by adhering to a veneer of ideology that excuses them from the consequences of their actions. Additionally, they feel a deep disaffect and frustration, and seek to act out by using the leverage of their knowledge in a negative manner. They make themselves more by making others less. This is the Super-Empowerment of fear. Not respect, fear. On the flip side of the coin, super-empowerment may be used to disempower others.
Zenpundit Mark Safranski recently featured an article on super-empowerment, rich with links to Fifth Generation Warfare sources. The article itself, however, contained only one mention of 5GW, a quote from Thomas X. Hammes.
“In fact, we may have seen 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
At the time Hammes wrote this, before the birth of D5GW or much of the other Fifth Generation Warfare thinking now available, his statement was as valid as any other. While I do not consider this as a possible Fifth Generation Warfare scenario, I do see it as the potential work of Super-Empowered Angry Men. That in mind, when I asked Mark Safranski how he felt about the relationship between super-empowered individuals and 5GW, Mark responded with this:
“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.”
To me, this perfectly highlights the problem that I have been wrestling with. How do super-empowered individuals, or Super-Empowered Angry Men, represent Fifth Generation Warfare? Are they an integral part of the theory, or merely a tangential consideration? What is the relationship between the two?
Super-empowered individuals are practitioners. Fifth Generation Warfare is a doctrine.
This is how super-empowered individuals relate to Fifth Generation Warfare theory. Super-empowered individuals may choose to follow any doctrine they desire: 4GW, Global Guerillaism, socialism, tribalism, terrorism, anarchism or capitalism. They may apply their leveraged knowledge in the manner that best suits their goals and aspirations. It makes sense that Super-Empowered Angry Men are most likely to choose the most violent and destructive doctrine within their means. I do not think the essential nature of Fifth Generation Warfare with its long-term planning horizon fits that description. For super-empowered individuals with a strategic mindset, 5GW may be an attractive doctrine and super-empowered individuals may prove to be 5GWs most effective practitioners.