Thug – a word adapted into the English language from its origins in the Indian subcontinent; defined either as a member of a professional clan of robbers and murderers or as a ruffian. The Oxford English Dictionary quite chillingly states in that usual equanimity that lexicographers somehow adopt that the correct term of “thug” in the local language was “phansi-gar” wherein the word phansi means to strangle or hang; and gar is the person who carries out that action.
If an alien were to have landed on Earth in 2004 and observed humanity for the subsequent 10 years, he/she (or it) would be grappling for a word that describes all of the following events until somehow stumbling to that definition in the OED or similar. In reverse chronological order, some such events over the past week alone:
- A gang of separatists or rebels in a remote part of eastern Ukraine close to or on the border with Russia, shooting down a commercial airliner overflying the territory, causing the deaths of 298 people immediately and perhaps ushering in something far worse in months to come;
- A bunch of hopeless terrorists who have essentially been barricaded in with the civilians in Gaza deciding to first kidnap and murder three innocent teenagers and then launch rocket attacks from launchers located inside apartment blocks, schools and hospitals;
- Prison officials in the state of Arizona in the United States who decide to try a new experimental cocktail of drugs in an actual execution of a death sentence, leaving the prisoner to die slowly over two hours;
- UK police who decide to launch unauthorized surveillance on people who were either family members of victims of police brutality or had complained about police brutality in the past;
- An elected legislator in India who decides to force feed an observant (ie fasting for Ramadan) Muslim caterer to “protest the quality of food served at lunch”.
The alien would then look at last week’s events in the context of events for the past 10 years and he would find more disturbing examples:
- The Islamic State (or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS – or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or al-Qaeda in Iraq), an organization devoted exclusively to the killing of Shia Muslims around Syria and Iraq for reasons that are entirely to do with a larger battle for the control of oil resources in the Middle East;
- The Taliban or “student” movement in Pakistan that essentially rejects the confines of a modern state and instead insists on carrying out attacks on “un-Islamic” people and markets without rhyme or reason;
- Members of China’s military who decide to take over an island or two that are claimed by more than one country, create artificial islands to prove their claims over an area of the sea and so on;
- Politicians belonging to the ruling party in Japan who decide from time to time to visit a shrine dedicated to soldiers, among them people who committed the worst humanitarian crimes of the last century.
Recoiling in horror at a multitude of these events, our alien decides to undertake some time travel and go back to 1914, imagining for a moment that there is no chance a species that has survived for so long could possibly have been this reckless for all its history. And there our alien would find:
- A lone gunman who decides to assassinate the Grand Duke of Austria and set in motion a train of events leading to World War I.
Plausible deniability, meet chaos theory
When and how did modern governments decide to outsource all operational aspects of geopolitical strategy to marauding gangs of robbers and murderers? If a memo had been sent explaining this new initiative, I certainly did not receive it.
In pretty much every event I mentioned above, there is a state actor who is attempting to hide behind the façade of “plausible deniability”, that is, the ability to wash one”s hands of a matter when things go out of control. Think of the following:
- ISIS was funded and created by members of the Saudi royal family, those ultimate customers of Western whores and colostomy bags. There exists sufficient damning documentation tying the Saudi royal family to the events in Syria when they decided to unseat the government of Basher al-Assad.Of course, chaos theory had other ideas and took the armed militia group towards the real riches, namely the oil fields of Iraq, where a corrupt and divided, Shia-led government held sway over an ancient Arab capital of Baghdad. Of course, now the royal family hides behind its facade of knowing nothing and doing nothing, pretending that all those fighters just spontaneously germinated in the Iraqi desert, with all terrain vehicles and shoulder launched grenades to boot.
- Russia’s President Vladimir Putin decided to teach a lesson to Ukrainians for daring to tie their skirts to the moronic European Union. Having annexed Crimea almost too easily, Putin decided that an open show of force on the Ukraine border wouldn’t go down well for his global ambitions and instead decided to arm militias to take on the ill-equipped, confused and corrupt army of Ukraine. And just to ensure that air superiority didn’t play a part in the escapades of his rogues, he gave them a bunch of SAMs (surface-to-air missiles for the rest of us). Ah well, chaos theory has another idea – how about if the ruffians use the missile to down a civilian airliner and kill nearly 300 people in the process. Oops.
- His strategy for Ukraine was learnt from the Russian losses in Afghanistan that were engineered by the United States and Pakistan: arm a band of thugs and let them roam free, killing Russians and bringing down military aircraft. Over time, the thugs helped to wear down the mighty Russian army, but someone forgot to remove the weapons and command structures. Chaos theory took over and sure enough unemployed thugs turned to drug smuggling and worse; eventually rising up as the Taliban that overran Afghanistan and harbored nutcases from around the Islamic world. One of those nutcases had the weird idea of sticking passenger aircraft into buildings as a physics experiment.
- Not content with picking up a fight with the rest of the world, the Taliban turned on its own masters, the Pakistan Army, disagreeing in public about ideology but in private more about drugs smuggling, weapons trading and the control of precious natural resources, including rare earths and various metals in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Inevitably, our alien would start framing all the above outcomes in a multi-player version of the prisoner’s dilemma wherein every player defaults to his version of the safe option, driving overall group outcomes continually lower. The opposite trajectory, as represented by Pareto optimality, is never even contemplated let alone executed by players.
This is why the transfer of operational responsibilities by and from nation-states to groups of individuals with narrower motives ends up being far more dangerous for the human race. Instead of seizing back power from these thugs, nation-states are increasingly abrogating greater responsibilities to them. Where this all ends is anyone’s conjecture, but as of now things don’t look very rosy.