Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I saw an interesting entry about emergent terrorism.

This brings us to emergent totalitarianism, or emergent terrorism. At first they may not seem susceptible to analysis as emergent phenomena, since by definition totalitarianism is a command system, and the greatest terrorist threat today demands obedience (at least nominally) to a strict and inflexible code of behavior. Yet many have noted how the decentralized network of Al Qaeda makes it difficult to cripple or destroy. This is not the first time they have been discussed as an emergent system, yet I think it's important to study their dynamics as deeply as possible if civilization is in a war to the death with them - we must know their strengths and weaknesses better than they know ours. And if we are truly to pit emergent system vs emergent system (rather than command vs emergent as the communists did economically) it must be at least in part us rather than our government who think about it.
I have always believed that terrorism is emergent in a lot of ways. Steven Johnson points out in his book, Emergence that not all emergence is good. I think Danny Hillis once pointed out that destruction works to beat up an ordered system such as US troops in Desert Storm, but has difficulty fighting chaos, such as terrorism. So how do we combant chaotic emergent threats? David discusses this in his Art of Peace entry a bit. I think you have to understand the conditions that cause the emergence as well as the the nature of the "units". I think one of the big problems in our quest to understand terrorism is that we think that "they" are not humans. "How could humans hate America? How could humans try to hurt us?" "They're evil, so they're not human in the same way we are human." Well, "they" are among "us".
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 -- The possibility of war with Iraq could unleash acts of anti-American violence in the United States or overseas by individual extremists who do not belong to Al Qaeda or other Middle Eastern terrorist groups but sympathize with their grievances, intelligence and law enforcement officials say.
I think the more quickly we decide that we are humans fighting humans and focus on the conditions that cause terrorism, the more effectively we will combat it. I think that using force and "order" against a chaotic system is a mistake and destined for the same results as the mayors who built "projects" to "get rid of" the slums. If you don't change the basic conditions through emergence, you'll never win.