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Belmont Club

5G

August 27th, 2009 - 3:07 am

Somebody believes the left is losing the public policy debate because they’ve got all the flagship institutions. And that’s a liability. Umair Haque, writing in a Harvard Business Publishing article, argues that the right, like al-Qaeda has mastered the art of “5th generation warfare” and is swarming all over the left. He notices that liberals have been losing the debate lately and tries to analyze why. The problem with the left, he seems to think, is that they are responding from a center, sending talking points out to a periphery, whereas the right has discovered how to attack swiftly, from a plethora of directions and in depth. The right is inside their OODA loop and Haque realizes that if this goes on long enough, the left will lose. Haque posits “10 rules” for fighting a “5th generation” information war, which I’ll leave the reader to peruse, but here is a list of of some of them.

  • Speed up response
  • Microchunk answers
  • Meta-attack — revalue facts by establishing sources of authority
  • Self-organize hyperlocally

Haque is among the first to understand that the Left is facing an truly new phenomenon. He does not make the mistake of believing that grassroots restiveness is driven by simple ignorance; nor does he fall into the error of thinking that the sudden emergence of memes like the fear of “death panels” is simply a perverse rejection of a beautiful public good. He correctly understands that the attacks are coming from everywhere in the conservative political spectrum, that its sheer leaderlessness is actually a source of strength because it means that like al-Qaeda, every group of conservative protesters can initiate and plan its own actions within the context of a shared narrative. This is why it is so deadly; and why he profers his ten points for countering it.

But having gone so far toward understanding what he’s facing, Haque fails to take his own logic to its ultimate conclusion. For some reason he believes that manipulation and the reimposition of authority can stem the tide. A change of style will set things right. The problem is that the left isn’t cool enough; get cooler and get into 5G. For example, Haque advises the left to forget about the facts; to focus on the frame. He tells them to destroy their opposition with the wow of authority.

You’re attacking with “facts.” But facts don’t matter, because your enemy doesn’t value information like you do. Life expectancy’s smaller in the States? So what — according to your enemies, you can’t trust facts from Cuba (or France). So you have to attack not with “facts”, but with meta-information about how to value facts. Start with meta-information about how to value insurance rationally — over a lifetime, not a day, for example. … discuss why smears and misinformation are unacceptable; make public and transparent who refuses to accept norms of good behaviour

I think Haque’s advice will ultimately fail because it fails to recognize the fundamental difference between ‘fake’ 5th generation warfare and the real thing. The real thing is bottom up; the fake thing is astroturfed. The genuine article aggregates the wisdom of crowds; the counterfeit hires crowds. The real thing genuinely takes into account the experience of the many and values it. It accepts that “norms” are actually driven by the normal and not pronounced on from above. This distinction in source of initiative is crucial. His “10 rules for fighting a 5G war” will come to nothing without recognizing rule number 1: the people can act directly in public policy. The result of applying this principle is 5th generation warfare. The opposite principle is that an enlightned elite, led by a One are leading the world to change. Applying this principle may result in a slick advertising campaign, but it will never be 5th generation warfare.

This is the crucial realization. The Republican leadership was in fact the first victim of the revolt from below. Only after the “5th generation” war had ripped through the comfortable assumptions of business as usual did it break out to face the left. To think that the current unrest is the creation of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck would be to make a fundamental mistake. Those figures are simply its beneficiaries — and its beneficiaries by accident. If Haque really wants to fight 5G, I would like to propose a different set of rules.

  1. Listen to the people;
  2. Believe that truth is something to be discovered in dialogue with the public; that the debate is never “over” simply because the great and good say so;
  3. Consider it possible that all men, including small businessmen, plumbers, rubes from Alaska, cleaning women who say their prayers at mealtimes — are in some fundamental way the equal of graduates of Harvard Law School and know as much about life and death as Dr. Zeke Emmanuel;
  4. Accept that facts do matter because reality is authored by something larger than government, greater than the Congress and more lasting than any administration;
  5. That all efforts to “attack the base” will ultimately fail because a government by the people, of the people and for the people will never perish from the earth; and
  6. Realize that these precepts are obvious on the face of it though there are none so blind as they who will not see.

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