Saturday, September 23, 2017

Global cooperation depends on the strength of local connections

Of course it does.  Thus my Rule of Twelve.   No communicating fully networked population is able to sustain conflict at all.  Where the problem arises is when such communication is assigned to an ill chosen one in such a way that he or she restricts such communication.  In short, hierarchy acts to limit cooperation and by extension, the more hierarchy we have the less cooperation we earn

The future will see all this resolved.  A lot we are actually relearning.  It is instructive that my newly imagined rule of twelve is integral to Bronze Age community governance and likely goes back to Antediluvian times.

We still see little substantive movement in my indicated direction mostly because hierarchical structures have and continue to control access to credit.

Global cooperation depends on the strength of local connections
Benjamin Allen  is an assistant professor of mathematics at Emmanuel College in Boston.

How do we make cooperation thrive? 

Construction of the Manhattan Bridge, New York, 1909. Courtesy Library of Congress

The story of humanity is one of extraordinary cooperation but also terrible conflict. We come together to build cities, civilisations and cultures, but we also destroy these through violence against each other and degradation of our environment. Given that human nature is capable of both extremes, how can we design societies and institutions that help to bring out our better, more cooperative, instincts?

This question is not limited to humans. Life’s domains are replete with many forms of cooperation, from microbes sharing helpful molecules to dolphins providing aid to the injured. This kind of ‘altruistic’ behaviour – helping others at one’s own expense – presents an evolutionary puzzle. 

As Charles Darwin put it in The Descent of Man (1871): ‘He who was ready to sacrifice his life … rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature.’ The question then becomes, what kinds of conditions lead to the evolution of cooperative behaviour, when we would normally expect selfishness to prevail?

Ideas about evolution and human nature can be difficult to test in the laboratory. However, insight can come from a surprising place: mathematics. The idea is to create a mathematical model: a cartoon picture of the real world, drawn in the language of maths. Mathematical analysis can then provide a kind of ‘instant experiment’ to test an idea on its theoretical merits.

Of course, since any mathematical model excludes some features and oversimplifies others, we must be careful not to draw overly broad conclusions. History is littered with utopian ideas that looked great on paper but collapsed in practice. Still, mathematical modelling can be quite effective in separating promising ideas from those that are conceptually flawed.

Recently, I led a team of investigators to mathematically model how the structure of a society can encourage or suppress the evolution of cooperative behaviour. We represented structure as a network, in which every individual is linked to a certain set of ‘neighbours’. Links can be strong, as in the case of a close friend or family member, or weak, as for a rarely seen acquaintance.

Fig 1. The two strategies, cooperation and non-cooperation, spread through the network as individuals imitate their neighbours.Individuals can cooperate, helping their neighbours at a cost to themselves, or not. This choice is an example of what game theory calls the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’. Each individual, if acting in pure self-interest, would choose not to cooperate. Yet cooperation by everyone leads to greater prosperity for all.
The two strategies, cooperation and non-cooperation, spread through the network as individuals imitate, or learn from, their neighbours. Individuals are more likely to imitate neighbours who do better in the prisoner’s dilemma. Over time, one strategy will win out: society will converge to a state where either everyone cooperates or no one does.
An earlier study had examined a simple case of this model, in which each individual has the same number of neighbours. They found that, for cooperation to flourish, the benefit-cost ratio of cooperation must be greater than the number of neighbours per individual. For example, if everyone has exactly five neighbours, cooperation succeeds if it provides at least five times as much benefit as the cost a cooperator pays. But while this is a beautiful result, its applicability is limited: in typical real-world networks, individuals differ widely in their number of neighbours, with some having a great many neighbours and others having very few.

We found a way to calculate whether cooperation is favoured on any network. The key quantity is the critical benefit-cost ratio. If this ratio is three, for example, then any cooperative behaviour providing a threefold-or-greater benefit is favoured. We showed how to calculate the critical cost-benefit ratio of any given network by solving a system of linear equations (a mathematically straightforward task). The smaller this ratio, the easier cooperation is to achieve. But for some networks, this ratio is negative, which means that cooperation is never favoured to evolve.

So which networks are best for promoting cooperation? Cooperation flourishes best when each individual has strong, reciprocated connections to a small number of others. In this case, cooperation spreads locally, along these connections, leading to clusters of cooperators who share benefits with each other. In contrast, if all individuals are equally connected to all others, the benefits of cooperation become diluted in the sea of non-cooperators, and the behaviour cannot spread. Thus, for cooperation to thrive, a few strong ties are better than a myriad weak ones.

Fig 2. If everyone is equally connected to everyone else, cooperators are at a disadvantage. But if individuals have strong connections to only a few others, cooperation can spread locally to form clusters of mutual aid, eventually taking over the whole populationHumanity faces a number of unprecedented challenges. To respond to crises such as climate change, we must cooperate on a global scale. Mathematical modelling can help us design structures and institutions to make this cooperation possible. According to our model, open forums such as Twitter, in which anyone can interact with anyone else, might be great for sharing information, but terrible at promoting cooperation between users. Institutions that encourage fewer, stronger connections might have a better shot at getting individuals to work together for their common good.

This work is one step in a larger research programme to identify how structures, networks and interaction patterns can promote cooperation in biology and in society. Our model includes many simplifying assumptions that must be probed and tested to determine how widely our results apply. Much more work needs to be done – on paper, on computers, in the laboratory, and especially in the real world – to understand how we can design the networks that will best empower us to meet our collective challenges. Still, our simple, abstract model suggests a remarkably intuitive principle: the success of global cooperation depends on the strength of our local connections.

The healing power of nature

This is a reminder, but also do note that methodology is also evolving as well and that this all needs to be taken much further.  I do think that running water has much to do with all this.

Thus there are plenty of local streams that need to be dressed up a little and set up for straight up canoe trips.  This also has the advantage of placing eyeballs on these forgotten rivers and getting political support for full restoration.  They will no longer be out of sight and out of mind.

My own experience tells me that even modest creeks can use this attention and be nicely restored.

The healing power of nature 

The idea that immersing yourself in forests and nature has a healing effect is far more than just folk wisdom

‘The longer the trip, the more healing occurs,’ says the geologist Peter Winn, who has been leading expeditions down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon since the 1960s. ‘Healing happens for people almost without exception.’

The most dramatic transformations that he’s observed have been in disabled military veterans on 16-day kayaking trips organised by a group called Team River Runner. ‘One army communications expert came home from Iraq so full of shrapnel, he’d lost his ability to do even simple math, and would only say “Fuck you.”’ By the end of the trip, he spoke eloquently and at length, in appreciation of both the Canyon and his fellow boaters. ‘Later his wife wrote to thank the crew and the river for getting her husband back.’

Another Team River Runner veteran, a helicopter mechanic and co-pilot in Iraq with shrapnel in her brain that couldn’t be removed, came to the river with suicidal tendencies. ‘She’d been in and out of hospitals and therapy for three years,’ Winn says. ‘She didn’t want to kayak, so I taught her to row my raft. She ran all the rapids without flipping, then went home and got into competitive road bicycling. She just won a major women’s race in Europe.’

I too was a Grand Canyon river guide in the 1970s and ’80s; I saw the universal changes on the 14-day trips we led. Passengers made the trek to our rafts at Lees Ferry in Arizona, escaping deadlines, responsibilities and overflowing voice- and (back then) paper-filled inboxes at home. In a matter of days, they forgot about life above the rim while they plunged through legendary whitewater and hiked to hidden grottoes and waterfalls.

‘After three days, the passengers and the crew could really be on the river,’ recalls Louise Teal, an author and Colorado River guide. ‘People not only heal physically down there, they sometimes change their lives. They get or quit jobs, marry or divorce, become river guides themselves.’

Teal and I were both passengers before we took up guiding – as she says, because we found the river ‘beautiful and intense, a completely fulfilling place to be’. With its soul-stirring sunsets, hypnotic rock walls, and endlessly flowing river, the Canyon provides the backdrop for restoration. Guides know that they only have to get passengers to the river, earn their trust, and take them deep into what Teal calls the ‘zillion-year-old rocks’ where, as she says, ‘the rest is cake’.

River guides might know that nature is transformative for the human body and psyche; but the mechanism behind such profound change is less universally agreed upon and understood. How nature heals had been little researched until 1982, when Tomohide Akiyama, who was then secretary of the Forest Agency in Japan, coined the term shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) to describe the practice of getting into the woods for body and mind renewal, to counter lifestyle-related health issues.

The tradition was already ages-old in Japan, but naming it went hand in hand with making recommendations for best practices: one should walk, sit, gaze and exercise among the trees; eat well-balanced meals of organic, locally sourced food; and, if available, immerse in hot springs. All five senses should be engaged, especially for certification as one of Japan’s official Forest Therapy Bases, which are well-maintained, embraced by the local community, and which are required to show, in practitioners, a decrease in physiological markers such as levels of the stress hormone cortisol after wandering in the woods.

When Akiyama recommended forest bathing all those years ago, he knew about the pioneering studies of phytoncides – basically, pungent essential oils – conducted by the Soviet scientist Boris P Tokin in the 1920s and ’30s. The oils, volatile compounds exuded by conifers and some other plants, reduce blood pressure and boost immune function, among other benefits.

In recent years, a host of other mechanisms have come to light – in fact, there are up to 21 possible pathways to improved health, according to a review paper in Frontiers in Psychology from scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Among the elements that have been identified, of particular note are bright lights and negative air ions (oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron), known to ease depression; simple views of nature, which enhance autonomic control of heart rate and blood pressure; and even the sounds of nature, which help us to recover from heightened stress.

Blood tests revealed a host of protective physiological factors released at a higher level after forest, but not urban, walks. Among those hormones and molecules, a research team at Japan’s Nippon Medical School ticks off dehydroepiandrosterone which helps to protect against heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as adiponectin, which helps to guard against atherosclerosis. In other research, the team found elevated levels of the immune system’s natural killer cells, known to have anti-cancer and anti-viral effects. Meanwhile, research from China found that those walking in nature had reduced blood levels of inflammatory cytokines, a risk factor for immune illness, and research from Japan’s Hokkaido University School of Medicine found that shinrin-yoku lowered blood glucose levels associated with obesity and diabetes.

‘People respond very favourably to water, whether a fountain in a healing garden or a river or shoreline’

Studies showed that just three days and two nights in a wooded place increase the immune system functions that boost feelings of well being for up to seven days. The same amount of time in a built environment has no such effect. Human response includes increased awe, greater relaxation, restored attention, and boosted vitality. Health outcomes on the receiving end of the pathway are astounding: enhanced immunity, including reduced cardiovascular disease, fewer migraines, and lowered anxiety, to name but a few. According to Frances Ming Kuo , the lead author of the University of Illinois review: ‘The cumulative effect could be quite large even if many of the individual pathways contribute only a small effect.’

Much of the scientific evidence of nature’s benefits has been derived from studying shinrin-yoku subjects. ‘Outside of urban nature, most of the peer-reviewed science has been done on northern temperate forests,’ says Kathleen Wolf of the University of Washington College of the Environment. ‘We know from the research that people respond very favourably to water, for instance, whether a fountain in a healing garden or a river or shoreline environment. We know less about response to tropical environments or desert environments. And we do know that we don’t need endemic nature – ornamental nature or designed nature or even engineered nature can be effective.’

What we know is that we feel good out there, a notion firmly supported by science.

‘River running is so popular now,’ says Mike Finzel, a former guide, ‘that it’s been years since I’ve been able to get a permit.’ Demand for what began as an arcane wilderness experience has burgeoned since its beginnings in the 1950s and ’60s to the point where river recreationists in the United States compete for a set number of put-in dates. Private river permits are managed by resource agencies through highly competitive web-based lotteries. Similarly shinrin-yoku, once known only as such in Japan, is growing in popularity in the West. Trainings for certified guides, taught all over the world, fill well in advance, despite sometimes-steep certification and membership fees.

What drives our search for nature immersion? Susan Karle, a California-based certified forest therapy guide and long-time licensed marriage and family therapist, says: ‘Nature was important to me growing up, and I returned to it because of the seriousness of the issues in my work with victims of trauma and abuse.’ She found that simple daily sits under a giant live oak in her yard helped to sustain her. ‘A few years ago, I took my first guided nature walk and found it so powerful that two weeks later I signed up for the five-day training to be a certified forest therapy guide in shinrin-yoku-style walks.’

These days, Karle’s outings begin with a sharing circle in a shady meadow, where some participants say that they hope to reclaim the free and happy feeling of being outdoors which they knew as children. Others say that they’ve been feeling stressed and just need time out from responsibilities. Karle might invite them to find stones to hold their worries for the day, then to toss them into a nearby creek. Choosing and discarding worry stones is just one of ‘literally hundreds of techniques we’ve tested’, says M Amos Clifford, the founder and director of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs that trained Karle. ‘About 40 techniques are keepers, meaning they work very well.’

‘People are willing to try shinrin-yoku right away because of the solid research behind it,’ Karle says. One of her clients had suffered great trauma following a death in the family, leading to a crushing sense of isolation and depression. ‘She thought she’d need years of therapy,’ Karle says. ‘With shinrin-yoku, she reconnected to a sense of hope and goodness, which had gone out of her life. Being in nature with a trusted group helped speed her process so she graduated from therapy in less than a year. When she said she felt she was done, I said: “Yes, I think you are.”’

Being in nature with a variety of species can help maintain a healthy microbiome of essential skin and gut bacteria

The essence of prescriptive medicine, with specific dosages and intervals between consumption, downplays nature’s key role in our lives during our evolutionary history. Some call shinrin-yoku a fitness trend, a movement to counter our modern obsessions with technology, a timeout in which we put away our devices and take the good old ‘nature cure’. That sense of nature as outside of us prevails mostly in the West; Eastern-based mindfulness practices and meditative traditions align more closely with human oneness with nature.

There’s an evolutionary component to that oneness. ‘Not only were we part of nature as we evolved,’ Wolf says, ‘but we were dependent on it. We had to rely on our senses, our intuition, and our responses in order to find food, water, shelter – the absolutely important things. We hunted or grew our food; we carried it back to the tribe.’

We’ve evolved a microbiology on our skin and in our gut – our microbiome – important to health and wellness, including even mental function. For example, studies with mice show that the bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, which abounds in forested and mountainous areas, boosts the immune system within; human exposure to M vaccae, it’s been hypothesised, could thus help to prevent serious depression, suicidal thoughts and chronic immune dysfunction. In addition, immersion in environmental biodiversity – being in nature with a variety of species – has been shown to help maintain a healthy microbiome of essential skin and gut bacteria. ‘The research is starting to suggest that children who do not experience sufficient amounts of nature at an early age do not develop proper immune functions to protect them as they get older,’ Wolf says. ‘To be in nature is to ingest those things that set up a healthy, thriving microbiome. And because of the sterility of some of our cities, with no parks and no trees, without that inoculation of nature, children are set back.’

But even in cities, we can intervene: when endemic nature isn’t available, ornamental and designed nature is quite effective. Even necessary systems such as storm-water infrastructure, designed to handle storm runoff and overflow, can also be designed to heal. Imagine a storm-water system with a second function as a natural habitat, complete with running water, vegetation, microbial life and a whole host of diversity, all geared to enhance human wellness. When a wild river isn’t right at hand, we might wander down to a water-treatment micropark, designed with natural elements that restore us to health.

Colorado River guides know that nature enhances our physical and mental lives. ‘For decades, I’ve believed that I’m part of nature,’ Winn says, ‘not separate from it or “above” it. Many years ago, I studied Zen Buddhism and learned to meditate. Eventually I found that just hanging out on desert rivers had the same effect as meditation – no stress

Return of the city-state

I personally posit the Communion of Xanadu as a global entity in which governance is through the natural community of approx. 150 souls and the rule of twelve.  The Nation State as we know it reduces natural communities into virtual communities inefficiently and fails a significant portion of its citizens.
What can be retained is the nation city that provides direct citizenship to ethnic avocations.   For example the city of Edinburgh can grant Scottish citizenship to all Scots.  This would give it almost 50,000,000 citizens able to vote on obvious cultural issues and a real forum to promote cultural values. They just would not mostly live there as that would no longer matter anyway.
What needs to be delinked is control over land use generally as that is best handled through the local; natural community and the application of the rule of twelve for conflicting issues...

Return of the city-state 
Nation-states came late to history, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they won’t make it to the end of the century

If you’d been born 1,500 years ago in southern Europe, you’d have been convinced that the Roman empire would last forever. It had, after all, been around for 1,000 years. And yet, following a period of economic and military decline, it fell apart. By 476 CE it was gone. To the people living under the mighty empire, these events must have been unthinkable. Just as they must have been for those living through the collapse of the Pharaoh’s rule or Christendom or the Ancien Régime.

We are just as deluded that our model of living in ‘countries’ is inevitable and eternal. Yes, there are dictatorships and democracies, but the whole world is made up of nation-states. This means a blend of ‘nation’ (people with common attributes and characteristics) and ‘state’ (an organised political system with sovereignty over a defined space, with borders agreed by other nation-states). Try to imagine a world without countries – you can’t. Our sense of who we are, our loyalties, our rights and obligations, are bound up in them.

Which is all rather odd, since they’re not really that old. Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travellers crossed without checks or passports. As industrialisation made societies more complex, large centralised bureaucracies grew up to manage them. Those governments best able to unify their regions, store records, and coordinate action (especially war) grew more powerful vis-à-vis their neighbours. Revolutions – especially in the United States (1776) and France (1789) – helped to create the idea of a commonly defined ‘national interest’, while improved communications unified language, culture and identity. Imperialistic expansion spread the nation-state model worldwide, and by the middle of the 20th century it was the only game in town. There are now 193 nation-states ruling the world.

But the nation-state with its borders, centralised governments, common people and sovereign authority is increasingly out of step with the world. And as Karl Marx observed, if you change the dominant mode of production that underpins a society, the social and political structure will change too.

The case against the nation-state is hardly new. Twenty years ago, many were prophesising its imminent demise. Globalisation, said the futurists, was chipping away at nation-states’ power to enforce change. Businesses, finance and people could up sticks and leave. The exciting, new internet seemed to herald a borderless, free, identity-less future. And climate change, internet governance and international crime all seemed beyond the nation-state’s abilities. It seemed too small to handle international challenges; and too lumbering to tinker with local problems. Voters were quick to spot all this and stopped bothering to vote, making matters worse. In 1995, two books both titled The End of the Nation State – one by the former French diplomat Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the other by the Japanese organisational theorist Kenichi Ohmae – prophesised that power would head up to multinational bodies such as the European Union or the United Nations, or down to regions and cities.

Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated, and the end-of-the-nation-state theory itself died at the turn of the millennium. But now it’s back, and this time it might be right.

There were only tens of millions of people online in 1995 when the nation-state was last declared dead. In 2015, that number had grown to around 3 billion; by 2020, it will be more than 4 billion. (And more than 20 billion internet-connected devices.) Digital technology doesn’t really like the nation-state. John Perry Barlow’s ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ (1996) sums it up well: the internet is a technology built on libertarian principles. Censorship-free, decentralised and borderless. And now ubiquitous.

This is an enormous pain for the nation-state in all sorts of ways. It’s now possible for the British National Health Service to be targeted by ransomware launched in North Korea, and there are few ways to stop it or bring perpetrators to justice. App technology such as Uber and Deliveroo has helped to produce a sudden surge in the gig economy, which is reckoned to cost the government £3.5 billion a year by 2020-1. There are already millions of people using bitcoin and blockchain technologies, explicitly designed to wrestle control of the money supply from central banks and governments, and their number will continue to grow. It’s also infusing us with new values, ones that are not always national in nature: a growing number of people see themselves as ‘global’ citizens.

If a nation cannot defend its border, it ceases to exist in any meaningful way

That’s not even the worst of it. On 17 September 2016, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted: ‘A nation without borders is not a nation at all. We WILL Make America Safe Again!’ The outcry obscured the fact that Trump was right (in the first half, anyway). Borders determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s a citizen and who’s not, who puts in and who takes from the common pot. If a nation cannot defend its border, it ceases to exist in any meaningful way, both as a going concern and as the agreed-upon myth that it is.

Trump’s tweet was set against the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s offer, one year earlier, of asylum for Syrians. The subsequent movement of people across Europe – EU member states received 1.2 million first-time asylum applications in 2015 – sparked a political and humanitarian crisis, the ramifications of which are still unfolding. It certainly contributed to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU. But 1.2 million people is a trickle compared to what’s coming. Exact numbers are hard to come by, and notoriously broad, but according to some estimates as many as 200 million people could be climate-change refugees by the middle of the century. If the EU struggles to control its borders when 1.2 million people move, what would happen if 200 million do? The lesson of history – real, long-lens human history – is that people move, and when they do, it’s hard to stop.

This is the crux of the problem: nation-states rely on control. If they can’t control information, crime, businesses, borders or the money supply, then they will cease to deliver what citizens demand of them. In the end, nation-states are nothing but agreed-upon myths: we give up certain freedoms in order to secure others. But if that transaction no longer works, and we stop agreeing on the myth, it ceases to have power over us.

So what might replace it?

The city-state increasingly looks like the best contender. These are cities with the same independent sovereign authority as nations, places such as Monaco or Singapore. The city-state has recently been feted by Forbes magazine (‘A New Era For The City-State?’ 2010), Quartz (‘Nations Are No Longer Driving Globalisation – Cities Are’, 2013), The Boston Globe (‘The City-State Returns’, 2015) and the Gates Foundation-funded How We Get to Next (‘The Rebirth of the City-State’, 2016).

The trends that are pinching the nation-state are helping the city-state. In a highly connected, quasi-borderless world, cities are centres of commerce, growth, innovation, technology and finance. According to Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and co-author (with Jeremy Nowak) of the forthcoming book The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, the hub-like quality of large cities is especially valuable in the modern economy: ‘Innovation happens because of collaboration, and that needs proximity. You need a dense eco-system, and so hyper-connectivity is reinforcing concentration.’ Cities also have demographic weight on their side: for the first time in history, in 2014 the majority of humans live in cities.

‘Power in the 21st century belongs to the problem-solvers. National governments debate and dither. Cities act, cities do’

This is giving cities more political muscle than ever, which they are increasingly keen to flex. On the issue of climate change, for example – something at which nation-states have failed abysmally – cities are pushing ahead. Since 2006, the C40 initiative has brought together more than 60 cities to promote partnerships and technology to reduce carbon emissions, often going significantly beyond international agreements. In the US, where the federal government appears to have given up on climate change, leadership has fallen to cities.

This shift in power is visible in the way that the mayors of major cities are political heavyweights in their own right: think of Bill de Blasio in New York, Sadiq Khan in London, Virginia Raggi in Rome, Ada Colau in Barcelona. Cities as diverse as Indianapolis and Copenhagen are experimenting with ways of using their own physical, economic and social assets to self-finance city-level investment.

According to Katz, the world is moving beyond a nation-state world. ‘We’re entering a period where cities have new kinds of power. They have enormous chances to leverage their economic and financial advantages to augment their position and effect change,’ he told me. I’m used to thinking about power in binary terms: you either have it or you don’t. But according to Katz, we need to re-think because there is something in between, where cities are not fully independent of their nation-states, but not supplicant to them either: ‘Cities are not subordinate to nation-states, they are powerful networks of institutions and actors that co-produce the economy. Power in the 21st century belongs to the problem-solvers. National governments debate and mostly dither. Cities act, cities do. Power increasingly comes from the cities up, not handed down from the nation-state.’

For a very long time, power was always found at the city-level. For thousands of years, urban settlements with self-government and city walls provided protection, services in exchange for tithes and taxes, and a set of rules by which to live and trade.

The Hanseatic cities for example – with their own armies and laws – pooled their economic weight to improve their bargaining power with other nations in the early 19th century, and became an economic powerhouse in the Baltic trade route. These cities – which included Bremen and Hamburg – realised they shared much in common, and that their mutual interests might be best served by working together. As today’s centres of urban global capitalism, major cities are more similar to each other than the provinces of their own nation-states. They are all hubs of finance, tech innovation, culture, and characterised by high levels of diversity and inward migration. While the UK voted to leave the EU 52/48, London voted to remain 60/40. (Following this vote, there was a short-lived movement for London to declare independence from the rest of the UK.) London, as is often remarked by visitors, is nothing like the rest of the country. The same can certainly be said of the US east- and west-coast behemoths.

Fleeting around from one city to the next, as I sometimes do, feels more Hanseatic League than League of Nations: a system of powerful, trading, networked cities. And the Hanseatic League itself was hardly an oddity. Before that there was Venice of course, and that was merely the most well-known of many independent city-states dotted across what is now Italy in the 10th to 16th centuries, including Florence, Bologna and Turin. But even this is ‘recent’ in the lifetime of the ancient city-state, which reaches back to Jerusalem, before that Athens, before that Babylon, and all the way back to Ur. Only a few formal city-states still exist today (Monaco, Singapore and the Vatican are the completely sovereign city-states; others, such as Hong Kong, act like one but do not have full sovereignty). It is in fact a historical anomaly that so few of us live in city-states.

Clearly, nation-states won’t go down tamely. Carving out a new form of sovereign authority from an existing one is extremely difficult, and is generally frowned upon by the UN. There’s a more prosaic reason too. In 2015, 2.1 million residents of Venice in Italy (89 per cent of those who voted) voted for independence in a non-binding referendum. Residents were annoyed that the city pays $20 billion more in tax than it gets back. But Italy will certainly not let Venice and its $20 billion tax go easily.

This is why some of the more exciting endeavours are about creating new cities entirely. Paul Romer, the chief economist at the World Bank, has long been an advocate of creating more chartered cities, essentially city-scale administrative zones that operate, to some extent, independently. Cities are the right size, he argues. Large enough to try something new, but not too big that all your eggs are in one basket. ‘A rule to create new rules,’ Romer said in a TED talk on the subject in 2009. A chartered city, built on uninhabited land would allow experimentation with new rules and systems to attract investment and people. His particular idea is for nations to work together, like China and the UK over Hong Kong. (Special Economic Zones, which have been around for several years, are similar: essentially geographic areas that are physically secure, and operate different economic laws to the host country, usually to encourage foreign direct investment.)

But even this is not easy, since it would require other countries leasing land, which wouldn’t even be full autonomy. There are some models, though, that don’t even need that.

Out on the swampy Croatian-Serbian border lies the 7 square kilometres of Gornja Siga. Although currently under Croatian control, this small patch of land is technically unclaimed since Croatia and Serbia both believe it belongs to the other. Due to its unusual legal status – terra nullius – this is where Vít Jedlicka, a 32-year-old libertarian from the Czech Republic, is at work trying to create a libertarian city-sized paradise of freedom, trade and prosperity called ‘Liberland’.

Liberland, which is uninhabited but has more than 100,000 online citizens ready to move if Croatia stops blocking inward access, already has the trappings of a city-state. A currency, a constitution, a president and even a football team. Everything has been designed to maximise individual liberty. For a start, anyone can join and leave as they wish. It would be the first state in the world where nothing would be compulsory, where you can do whatever the hell you like, as long as it doesn’t physically harm someone else. ‘It’s a tax heaven, not a tax haven,’ Jedlicka told me recently when I interviewed him for my book Radicals Chasing Utopia (2017). Schools, hospitals, pensions, roads, sewage works, rubbish collection and the rest will be provided by the market, if people decide that’s what they want and stump up the money.

Like most libertarians, Jedlicka loves modern digital technology, seeing it as extremely helpful to the libertarian cause, weakening the nation-states and helping new models such as his. It might seem like a pipe-dream – no other country has recognised this patch of swampland – were it not for the fact that several influential Silicon Valley-type investors share Jedlicka’s libertarian outlook, and are donating to his cause. ‘A completely novel situation,’ wrote the esteemed Chicago Journal of International Law in a detailed examination of Liberland in July 2016, suggesting it had ‘a shot’ at statehood.

In a world of seasteads, if you don’t like your system of government, simply sail off to another one you do like

The problem for Liberland is that the Croatian police could roll in any time they want, which is precisely what they did when I tried to reach the land while writing my book. This is why, as the American libertarian activist Patri Friedman told me recently when we met in Silicon Valley, the next new cities won’t be built on land at all. They will be floating in international waters, beyond the reach of the nation-state and its armies.

In 2008, Patri founded the Seasteading Institute, armed with half a million dollars donated by Peter Thiel, the libertarian billionaire who co-founded PayPal, and a plan to build island cities at sea in an experiment with how to live. ‘[Seasteading] is the market for countries,’ he told me. ‘You can only get so far patching and hacking the old system.’ And in a flourish worthy of his grandfather Milton, he told me that: ‘When you don’t have a start-up sector, existing countries suck … they give you crappy services and no change. You need a start-up sector to threaten them.’ In a world of seasteads, if you don’t like your system of government, it’s simply a matter of sailing off to another one you do like. Just as easy as switching series on Netflix, ordering an Uber, or meeting someone new on Tinder.

Patri thinks every seastead will be different and this will create a market in different types of systems of living that will force everyone to improve performance. Especially if the nation-state starts to crumble. (‘We don’t care if sea levels rise,’ he told me.)

Once again, technology is key: Patri is taking the Silicon Valley mindset and applying it to the nation-state. There are all these things you could now do that didn’t exist when our current system of government was invented, he told me. Constant online direct-democracy voting, building smart-cities, using crypto-currencies. And yet we still use a 19th-century model.

Google ‘Seastead’ and you’ll find fantastical designs of floating metropolises, fantasy worlds designed on laptops. It’s a pipe-dream. Even the Seasteading Institute’s modest target of 150 seasteaders by 2015 was missed.

And yet. This year, Patri together with his institute’s communications director Joe Quirk released an exhaustive book on seasteading, and signed a memorandum of understanding with French Polynesia to create the first semi-autonomous seazone in shallow waters off their coast for the first prototype city at sea. Patri told me that they’re starting to build very soon, and within a couple of years expect to have a few hundred people living on this floating metropolis just off the coast of Tahiti. I asked him if that was a realistic prospect. Of course! he replied. Look at the property prices in San Francisco. If you could live in a completely new country for less, lots of people would. He told me that he has a waiting list ‘of thousands’, and plenty of backers – mostly technology entrepreneurs – who see it as an investment opportunity. ‘These are people who look at a broken system and say: “What if we designed something better?”’

Nation-states are unlikely to collapse overnight. There are no barbarians at the gate. Even Rome did not collapse in a day. But it evolved during a time of industrialisation, centralised ‘command and control’ bureaucracies and national loyalty. Modern technology tends in the opposite direction: it’s distributed, decentralised and uncontrollable. If our political arrangements are a mirror of the modes of production and assumptions of the time, the future doesn’t look rosy for this 19th-century relic. It looks far brighter for the modern, connected, agile city, whether that’s on land, on borders, or out in the ocean. And anyway: doesn’t it pay to have some experiments going on, just in case?

A ‘humanely’ killed animal is still killed – and that’s wrong

Hereford cattle arrive at a meat processing plant. <em>Photo by Daniel Garcia/Getty</em>

This is a stretch of course.  The animal's death releases its spirit body for a new cycle of life.  A humane death does matter while death itself does not matter at all.  The reason that is true is because death is inevitable while the experience is what is retained by the spirit body.  .

The faux moralists argue nonsense that demands outright extinction for all domesticates and a complete rewilding of the Earth as well.

I am actually a fan of a successful vegetarian diet.  At the same time i am also a fan of organic farming methodology and all that demands a massive increase in our use of working livestock to assist us.  That does mean a steady stream of animal protein to be consumed and ultimately a global surface population approaching 100 billion for a fully optimized Earth and animal population as well.

I will not even get into the stark necessity of animal fats in the Arctic..
A ‘humanely’ killed animal is still killed – and that’s wrong 

is adjunct professor of law at Rutgers University and the co-founder of the Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic. Her latest book, together with Gary L Francione, is Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach (2015).

is a professor of law at Rutgers University, where he lectures on animal rights theory and the law, and an honorary professor at the University of East Anglia. His most recent book, together with Anna E Charlton, is Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach (2015).

Edited by Nigel Warburton

Hereford cattle arrive at a meat processing plant. Photo by Daniel Garcia/Getty 

Western conventional wisdom about animal ethics is that killing an animal is not the problem; the problem is making the animal suffer. As long as we have treated and killed an animal in a ‘humane’ way, we have done nothing wrong. A compelling example of this belief is found in the case of dogs and cats, animals particularly valued in Western culture. If someone inflicts suffering on a dog or cat, they are excoriated. But unwanted dogs and cats are routinely ‘put to sleep’ – killed – in shelters with an intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital, and most people do not object as long as the process is administered properly by a trained person and there is no suffering inflicted on the animal.
Why do we think that killing animals per se is not morally wrong? Why do we think that death is not a harm for non-human animals?

Before the 19th century, animals were mostly regarded as things. Neither our use nor our treatment of them mattered morally or legally. We could have obligations that concerned animals, such as an obligation not to damage our neighbour’s cow, but that obligation was owed to our neighbour as the owner of the cow, not to the cow.

To say that we thought of animals as things didn’t mean that we denied that they were sentient, or subjectively aware, and had interests in not experiencing pain, suffering or distress. But we believed that we could ignore those interests because animals were our inferiors. We could reason; they couldn’t. We could use symbolic communication; they couldn’t.

In the 19th century, a paradigm shift occurred, and the animal welfare theory was born. In a relatively brief period of time as far as major shifts in thinking go, we claimed to reject the notion of animals as things, and to embrace the idea that animals had moral value. Prominent in this paradigm shift was the lawyer/philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who argued in 1789 that, although a full-grown horse or dog is more rational and more able to communicate than a human infant, ‘the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?’

Bentham maintained that the fact that animals were cognitively different from humans – that they had different sorts of minds – did not mean that their suffering did not matter morally. He argued that we could no more morally justify ignoring the suffering of animals based on their species than we could ignore the suffering of slaves based on their skin colour.

But Bentham did not advocate that we stop using animals as resources in the manner he had advocated abolition in the case of human slavery. He maintained that it was morally acceptable to use and kill animals for human purposes as long as we treated them well. According to Bentham, animals live in the present and are not aware of what they lose when we take their lives. If we kill and eat them, ‘we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. They have none of those long-protracted anticipations of future misery which we have.’ Bentham maintained that we actually do animals a favour by killing them, as long as we do so in a relatively painless manner: ‘The death they suffer in our hands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature … [W]e should be the worse for their living, and they are never the worse for being dead.’ In other words, the cow does not care that we kill and eat her; she cares only about how we treat and kill her, and her only interest is not to suffer.

And that is precisely what most of us believe today. Killing animals is not the problem. The problem is making them suffer. If we provide a reasonably pleasant life and a relatively painless death, we have done nothing wrong. Interestingly, Bentham’s views are endorsed by Peter Singer, who bases the position he articulates in Animal Liberation (1975) squarely on Bentham. Singer claims that ‘the absence of some form of mental continuity’ makes it difficult to understand why killing an animal is not ‘made good by the creation of a new animal who will lead an equally pleasant life’.

We think that this view is wrong.

To say that a sentient being – any sentient being – is not harmed by death is decidedly odd. Sentience is not a characteristic that has evolved to serve as an end in itself. Rather, it is a trait that allows the beings who have it to identify situations that are harmful and that threaten survival. Sentience is a means to the end of continued existence. Sentient beings, by virtue of their being sentient, have an interest in remaining alive; that is, they prefer, want or desire to remain alive. Continued existence is in their interest. Therefore, to say that a sentient being is not harmed by death denies that the being has the very interest that sentience serves to perpetuate. It would be analogous to saying that a being with eyes does not have an interest in continuing to see or is not harmed by being made blind. Animals in traps will chew their paws or limbs off and thereby inflict excruciating suffering on themselves in order to continue to live.

Singer recognises that ‘an animal may struggle against a threat to its life’, but he concludes that this does not mean that the animal has the mental continuity required for a sense of self. This position begs the question, however, in that it assumes that the only way that an animal can be self-aware is to have the sort of autobiographical sense of self that we associate with normal adult humans. That is certainly one way of being self-aware, but it is not the only way. As the biologist Donald Griffin, one of the most important cognitive ethologists of the 20th century, noted, it is arbitrary to deny animals some sort of self-awareness given that animals who are perceptually conscious must be aware of their own bodies and actions, and must see them as different from the bodies and actions of other animals.

Even if animals live in the ‘eternal present’ that Bentham and Singer think they inhabit, that does not mean that they are not self-aware or that they do not have an interest in continued existence. Animals would still be aware of themselves in each instant of time and have an interest in perpetuating that awareness; they would have an interest in getting to the next second of consciousness. Humans who have a particular form of amnesia might be unable to recall memories or engage in ideation about the future, but that does not mean that they are not self-aware in each moment, or that the cessation of that awareness would not be a harm.

It is time that we rethink this issue. If we saw killing an animal – however painlessly – as raising a moral issue, perhaps that might lead us to start thinking more of whether animal use is morally justifiable, rather than only whether treatment is ‘humane’. Given that animals are property, and we generally protect animal interests only to the extent that it is cost-effective, it is a fantasy to think that ‘humane’ treatment is an attainable standard in any case. So if we take animal interests seriously, we really cannot avoid thinking about the morality of use totally apart from considerations of treatment.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Stages of Fasting: What Happens to Your Body When You Fast?

This is a useful bit.  we get plenty of how tos but mapping actual changes is usually left out.
 My own experience caught me getting dehydrated and that must be avoided.

All good though.
The Stages of Fasting: What Happens to Your Body When You Fast?

While fasting is nothing new, it is experiencing a resurgence in popularity as many discover its health benefits. If you are planning your first fast or looking for ways to improve your next one, there are a few things you should do to prepare. The first step is learning about the different stages of fasting. This knowledge helps you mentally and physically prepare for what happens to your body when you fast.
The stages of fasting outlined below are based off a water fast, a traditional fast in which you abstain from any food and only drink water for 12-48 hours or longer. Personal experiences can vary depending on the type of fast, age, or health of the individual, but these should give you a general idea of what to expect when you fast.

Stage 1: Day 1-2

Stage one lasts for the first couple of days of the fast or about 12-48 hours from your last meal. Usually, it is a good idea to put some planning and preparation into how and when you will start a fast. Try selecting a start day and time and then make preparations in your schedule for the duration of your fast.
How You Feel: Hungry

This stage is when your body transitions into fasting mode and, for many people, it’s the most challenging part of their fast. This stage is where you start to feel the hunger pains as you skip your regular mealtime routine. Most first time fasters start to feel a reduction in their energy levels. These effects can induce a negative mood or irritability for most fasters. It’s wise to prepare yourself for the possibility of being short on patience during this stage.
What’s Happening With Your Body: Battery Save Mode

Several things happen at the cellular level that cause hunger and fatigue during this first stage. When you’re eating regularly, your body breaks down glucose to get the energy it needs to function properly. While you’re fasting, your body needs to produce sugar for energy, so it begins a process called gluconeogenesis. During gluconeogenesis, your liver converts non-carbohydrate materials like lactate, amino acids, and fats into glucose. As your body goes into “battery save mode,” your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, becomes more efficient and uses less energy. This power saving process includes lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. At this stage, you may feel drained. However, if you stick it out for a little longer, some of that lost energy will return.[1]
Benefits: Mental Strength and Heart Health

Fasting these first few days can be difficult, but there are mental and physical benefits. Mentally, the act of fasting is an excellent way to exercise your willpower. Similar to the strength runners might feel after pushing their body to run that extra mile, people who choose to fast can feel strength as they fight through those natural urges to eat. Physically, there are incredible cleansing and heart health benefits taking place, too. As BMR lowers, fat in the blood starts to disappear as it’s metabolized for energy. This process promotes a healthy heart, and for some, improves cholesterol levels by boosting HDL levels.[2]

Stage 2: Day 3-7

Stage two starts around the end of day two and lasts until day seven. A lot of changes begin to happen at this stage, and you may start to notice changes in your physical appearance, as well as how you feel.
How You Feel: Less Hungry and More Energetic

By stage two, ketosis has begun. Ketosis is a critical phase of the fast where your body starts to burn stored fat as its primary power source. As the processes of ketosis are carried out inside your body, you might stop feeling hungry and tired. The practice of putting your body into ketosis has a growing movement behind it. It is ideal for weight loss, balancing blood sugar, and more. Best of all, you don’t even have to fast to put your body into ketosis. Eating the right foods at the right time can be enough to start this fat burning process. There are even vegan ketogenic diet plans available so you can still eat health-promoting foods to stay in ketosis.
What’s Happening With Your Body: Fat Burning Mode

When you consume a typical diet of carbohydrate rich foods, your body breaks down sugars and starches into glucose. Glucose is the primary source of energy for the body. However, when you fast or go into ketosis glucose becomes limited, and your body must turn to fat stores for the energy it requires. Your body breaks fat down into glycerol and fatty acids. The liver synthesizes ketones using glycerol. The glycerol is broken down by the liver for additional glucose, and finally, those ketones are used by your brain as glucose becomes less available.[1]

Benefits: Weight Loss and Cleansing

Burning fat has several benefits for your health—the first being weight loss. Ketosis is a predictable way to target fat stores that otherwise remain untouched even with a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, getting rid of that extra fat has a detoxifying effect on the body. Your body’s natural defenses use fat stores to store toxic metals and other toxins so they can’t wreak havoc on your system. However, during ketosis, these toxic metals and toxins are safely expelled from your body as fat reserves get used up.[3] This cleansing effect may temporarily alter some people’s complexion or cause other signs of a healing crisis.

Stage 3: Day 8-15

Stage three typically falls between day eight and 15. This stage includes dramatic improvements in mood and mental clarity and is the stage seasoned fasters look forward to the most.
How You Feel: Clear Minded

By the third stage a sort of “fasting high” begins. This boost happens when your body fully adjusts to fasting. While not everyone reaches this stage, those who do report a dramatic improvement in how they feel. These improvements include an elevated mood, increased energy levels, and a type of clear mindedness unique to fasting.
What’s Happening With Your Body: Healing Mode

During stage three, your body starts to enter into a “healing mode.” This healing process begins as your digestive system takes a rest from the common stressors and toxins it endures on a daily basis. As a result, your body has fewer free radicals entering the mix, and oxidative stress decreases.[4]
On the flip side, fasting causes a stress that provides an added benefit. This is a kind of mild stress that is comparable to the stress caused by exercise, which ultimately makes you stronger and your immune system more resilient.[5]
Benefits: Healthy Aging

When the cumulative effects of this stage add up, they can be the catalyst for significant health improvements. Anytime you limit free radicals and oxidative stress you are encouraging healthy aging and positioning yourself for fewer health complications.[6] While less researched, this healing process seems to improve health for some.

Stage 4: Day 16 and Beyond

Stage four occurs sometime around day 16 and continues through the duration of your fast. While there may be some changes moving beyond this juncture, there is a daily balance that starts to set in.
How You Feel: Balanced

If you make it to stage four, you are at a place most have never gone. This stage, while doable, should only be attempted under close supervision from a trusted health care professional. For those that do make it this far, there are not any drastic shifts that occur in how you feel. Instead, a steady balance seems to set in.
What’s Happening With Your Body: Healing Mode Extended

Stage four is the extension and completion of the healing and cleansing processes that began during the earlier stages. The longer you fast, the more time and opportunity your body has to heal and cleanse itself.
Benefits: Personal Goals and Growth

If you make it this far, the benefit becomes personal. Fasting, especially beyond the first seven days, takes steadfast dedication. What you get out of the fast in these later stages can be a culmination of all the earlier stages or an accomplishment of a personal health goal. For some, it is weight loss, for others, it is a strategy to heal a particular health complication.

 Stage 5: Breaking the Fast

Stage five may come sooner or later, depending on your fasting goal. While we don’t assign a specific target day, you may want to make breaking your fast a planned event you can look forward to and celebrate when it’s all done.
How You Feel: Accomplished

Whether you fasted for half a day or a full month, you should feel accomplished. Taking deliberate action to improve your health or testing your limits is something worth celebrating.
What’s Happening With Your Body: Easing Out of Fasting Mode

How you choose to end your fast is critical. Depending on how long you fast, you may need to ease your way back into eating solid food. Fruit juices, cooked vegetables, and broths can help acclimate your body and digestive system to eating as internal mechanisms come back online.
Benefits: Start Something New

With careful planning and thought, fasting can be an incredible springboard into a healthier lifestyle. One suggestion is to make plans before you even start your fast. Write down what you’re hoping to get out of it and what you want to accomplish. If done correctly, the end of a fast is the perfect time to begin a dramatically healthier diet and lifestyle.
Additional Fasting Tips

Bowel movements and bad breath are two subjects that most people usually avoid discussing, but when fasting, you need to be aware of both.
During stage one and two of the fast, your body will still be expelling toxins and damaged cells every time you go to the bathroom. Using an intestinal cleansing product, like Oxy-Powder will help more thoroughly cleanse and detoxify your body.
Bad breath will be a concern throughout every stage of a fast. Slightly offensive breath is completely natural and part of the detoxing processes. If you are worried about your breath while you fast, I have created an all-natural solution. It’s called Fresh Mouth, and it comes in a convenient spray bottle that fits in your pocket. Just a few sprays and your mouth will feel fresh and smell great!
Do you have any experience with fasting? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook, and share your insight with us!
  • Fung, Jason, and Jimmy Moore. “The Complete Guide To Fasting.” 1st ed. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing. Print.

About the author:

Dr. Edward F. Group III (DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM) founded Global Healing Center in 1998 and is currently the Chief Executive Officer. Heading up the research and development team, Dr. Group assumes a hands-on approach in producing new and advanced degenerative disease products and information.
Dr. Group has studied natural healing methods for over 20 years and now teaches individuals and practitioners all around the world. He no longer sees patients but solely concentrates on spreading the word of health and wellness to the global community. Under his leadership, Global Healing Center, Inc. has earned recognition as one of the largest alternative, natural and organic health resources on the internet.

Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people become extremists?

This is not a difficult question.  You start with boredom and perhaps social isolation.  Then you self brainwash yourself to the point in which you finally drink the Koolaid.

The cure is even simpler. A low guilt  threshold for the application of Summary Castration. This makes reading Jihadi propaganda deeply unpopular and stops self brainwashing.

Put all that in place and it is no trick to make it all go away.

None of this ever had anything to do with religion at all, except to provide  useful idiots.  The inclination has been a fringe phenomena for centuries and includes neo Nazis, anarchists and communists as well..


Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people become extremists?

16 August 2017

It takes more than religious fanaticism or hatred to make someone take innocent lives, but recognise the true roots of ISIS-inspired terror and they can be addressed

VERA MIRONOVA rides Humvee shotgun through Mosul’s shattered cityscape. It is late January 2017. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has just declared east Mosul liberated from three years of rule by Islamic State, or ISIS. Most jihadist fighters are dead or captured, or have crossed the Tigris to the west, digging in for a final stand. Left behind, biding their time, are snipers and suicide bombers.

Much of the population has fled to refugee camps on the outskirts. Those who stayed look lost and dazed. Men pull corpses out of houses destroyed by air strikes. Others cobble together street-corner markets, selling meat and vegetables imported from Erbil, 80 kilometres and another world away.
Few women are visible. Mironova stands out, dressed in combat trousers and a Harvard sweatshirt, wisps of blonde hair escaping her blue stocking hat. Despite travelling in an armoured car, she’s clearly not a combatant. She’s a social scientist, and her job is not to fight, but to listen, learn and record.

We stop for breakfast at My Fair Lady, a ramshackle restaurant that was a favoured eatery of ISIS fighters. The Iraqi special forces soldiers accompanying us say it has the best pacha in town – steaming bowls of sheep brains and intestines stuffed with rice, with slices of black, fatty tongue and boiled oranges. Mironova orders a pizza.

A week later, a suicide bomber detonates himself at the entrance to the packed restaurant, killing the owner and several customers.

“The United States does not have a real counter-terrorism strategy,” says Martha Crenshaw. Faced with continued waves of jihadist terror attacks, in the conflict zones of Syria and Iraq but also closer to home, the West seems at a loss to know what to do. Crenshaw is something like the doyenne of terrorism studies, with a half-century career studying the roots of terror behind her. She occupies an office at Stanford University just down the hall from Condoleezza Rice, the former US national security advisor who was an architect of the “global war on terror” declared after the attacks of 11 September 2001. “There is a vast amount of money being thrown into the counter-terrorism system and nobody is in charge,” Crenshaw says. “We do not even know what success might look like. We are playing a dangerous game of whack-a-mole: terrorists pop up. We try to beat them down, hoping they will give up.”

In July, al-Abadi was back in Mosul, this time to declare the final liberation of Iraq’s second city. Near-saturation bombardment of the centre by the US Air Force and a casualty-heavy, house-by-house offensive led by Iraqi forces had eliminated most of the fighters holding the city where the leader of ISIS, Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, had proclaimed its caliphate in 2014. The liberation came at a huge price. Mosul lies in ruins, and tens of thousands of civilians are dead or wounded. Almost one million residents have been displaced from their homes.

The price has been paid not just in Mosul. In June, 206 civilians were killed in bombings and other attacks carried out or inspired by ISIS in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Australia, Pakistan and the UK, where radicalised ISIS supporters murdered eight in an attack near London Bridge on 3 June. A couple of weeks earlier, on 22 May, a 22-year-old British Muslim named Salman Ramadan Abedi detonated an improvised bomb laden with nuts and bolts at the entrance to the Manchester Arena, killing himself and 22 others, many of them children.

Why? Religious fanaticism? Groundless hate? Perverted ideology? Victory in the war on terror requires us to know what and who exactly we are fighting.

After breakfast, we accompany Iraqi commandos into abandoned houses that had been used by ISIS, wary of booby traps. We stare into darkened, steel-barred rooms used as jails for sex slaves and “kafirs”, Muslims who fell afoul of ISIS. We inspect the labels on tin cans, torn cookie packaging and empty bottles of Scotch whisky.

The soldiers scoop up photographs, checkpoint passes and slips of paper with names and phone numbers. Mironova bags religious tracts written in Arabic and Russian. Many of ISIS’s foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria are Chechnyans and Tajiks. Someone hands Mironova a diary written in Russian. She reads out loud, translating a letter written by a woman to her jihadist lover.

“We are made only for each other, our marriage is sealed in heaven, we are together in this life and the afterlife, God willing. When you left, I counted the days until I got you back, my beloved. Now you are going to the war again; you may be gone forever. I will count the days until we meet again, my beloved Zachary.” Following the letter, the woman had penned a recipe for a honey cake that requires a creamy milk not obtainable in Iraq. Jihadists dream of comfort food, too.

During the 1980s, Marc Sageman worked as a case officer for the CIA, operating armed cells resisting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now a forensic psychiatrist specialising in criminality and terrorism, he has been investigating what makes a terrorist for decades.

In his 2004 book Understanding Terror Networks, Sageman examined the motivations of 172 jihadist terrorists as revealed primarily in court documents. His conclusions fitted with decades of jail interviews and psychological studies showing that terrorism is neither solely reducible to ideological or religious motivations, nor to personality disorders. “Terrorism is not a personality trait,” says Sageman. “There is no such thing as a ‘terrorist’, independent of a person who commits an act of terror.”

That presents a problem for efforts to profile, identify and interdict individuals at risk of turning to terrorism, a central plank of anti-radicalisation programmes such as the UK’s “Prevent” strategy (see “Nip it in the bud“). Democratic societies cannot keep an eye on everyone, and what they are looking for may not even give any obvious sign of its existence.

Crenshaw’s influential paper “The causes of terrorism”, published in 1981, summed up decades of observations of terrorists and their organisations, ranging from 19th century Russian anarchists to Irish, Israeli, Basque and Algerian nationalists. The outstanding common characteristic of individual terrorists, she concluded, is their normality. In her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem, political theorist Hannah Arendt noted the same thing about the “banal” Nazi concentration camp bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann.

Adolf Eichmann

The unremarkable Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann embodied the “banality of evil”
People who commit terrorist acts are usually embedded in a network of familial and friendship ties with allegiance to a closed group, be that tribal, cultural, national, religious or political. Historically, the conditions for the murder of innocents by terrorism or genocide have occurred when one group fears extinction by another group. Ordinary people are motivated to “kill people by category” through their own group identity.

Viewed from inside the group, that can seem rational: terrorists are brave altruists protecting the group from harm by powerful outsiders. Terrorist acts are warnings to the out-group, demanding that certain actions be taken, such as withdrawing a military occupation or ending human and civil rights abuses. Terrorism is a militarised public relations ploy to advance a grander scheme – a political tactic, not a profession or an overarching ideology.

But the vast majority of people who might share the same sense of grievance or political goals are not motivated to kill and maim the innocent. Criminologist Andrew Silke at the University of East London has conducted many interviews with imprisoned jihadists in the UK. “When I ask them why they got involved, the initial answer is ideology,” he says. “But if I talk to them about how they got involved, I find out about family fractures, what was happening at school and in their personal lives, employment discrimination, yearnings for revenge for the death toll of Muslims.”

Yet this is not a popular view with counter-terrorism agencies, he says. “The government does not like to hear that someone became a jihadist because his brothers were beaten up by police or air strikes blew up a bunch of civilians in Mosul. The dominant idea is that if we concentrate on, somehow, defeating the radical Islamicist ideology, we can leave all of the messy, complicated behavioural stuff alone.”

Mironova trained as a mathematician, game theorist and behavioural economist. A fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, she is one of few researchers to venture directly into combat zones to examine the roots of jihadist terror. Her work has been funded variously by the US National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the United Nations and the World Bank.

During extended stays in Syria, Iraq and Yemen over the past five years, Mironova has built up trust networks in a politically diverse spectrum of insurgents, including “radical” and “moderate” jihadists and ISIS members and defectors. She moves easily through the clogged frontline check points surrounding Mosul with the permission of the Iraqi military. She stays close to her protectors, careful not to cross the ethical line of “doing no harm” that separates academic research from intelligence gathering.
“We are playing a dangerous game of whack-a-mole with the terrorists”
By seeing things through the eyes of the fighters, Mironova aims to model what drives them, and how their individual motivations affect group behaviours and vice versa. She reads Arabic, but employs local translators in the field. She interviews fighters and civilians in hospitals, refugee camps and on the front lines face to face and via telephone or Skype.

Iraq as a whole is mainly Shia, but Mosul is largely Sunni; ISIS practices an apocalyptic form of the Sunni faith in a region wracked by social and economic catastrophe. Many civilians in the areas under their control collaborate, willingly and unwillingly, with ISIS. Some share their houses with fighters. Some work in ISIS factories, building homemade rockets, cutting and welding steel for jail bars and armour plates for tanks. Some escape into refugee camps. Some marry fighters. Some join sleeper cells.

In “The causes of terrorism”, Crenshaw observed that it is often the children of social elites who first turn to terrorism, hoping to inspire the less-privileged masses to approve a radical change in the social order. Many Jihadist organisations are led by upper middle class intellectuals, often engineers. Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is a medical doctor; Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi reportedly has a doctorate in Islamic studies.

But the work of Mironova and others shows that the local ISIS rank and file is more down-to-earth: disenfranchised people struggling to eke out a living for their families in war zones. Foreign fighters tend to be more ideologically driven, and most motivated by factors beyond group identity to make the ultimate sacrifice (see “Devoted to the cause“).

mosque street scene

Militants may be motivated by revenge or the promise of heavenly rewards – but some just treat jihad as a job

Some militants seek to avenge the deaths of friends and relatives from US drone attacks, Shia militias, Iraqi police or US and British special operations forces. But as the sex slaves and Scotch suggest, jihadist fighters do not focus exclusively on heavenly rewards, or even hatred or revenge. Not everyone wants to die. Jihadist brigades in Iraq seize oil and vehicles, which they transport to high demand markets in Syria seeking to maximise profits. They often distribute gains from their looting and business operations communally.
Many of their adherents are purely economic actors, recruited with offers of competitive salaries, health insurance and benefits paid to their families should they be killed in battle. Mironova surveyed a cohort of Iraqi women who had encouraged their husbands and sons to join ISIS in order to get better family living quarters. Some recruits just need a job.

In Iraq and Syria, there are more than 1000 radical Islamist, moderate Islamist, and non-sectarian brigades seeking to recruit militants to their brand of insurgency. In Mironova’s models, their behaviour is determined by resource constraints, much as capitalist enterprises thrive and die. Groups compete to attract the best fighters. Those with low budgets may choose a radical religious line to attract foreign fanatics who are not as professional as fighters motivated by money, but will work for just room and board. Such models suggest that although the roots of violent jihadism might be expressed as religious fervour, they are anchored in more mundane, utilitarian – and perhaps solvable – causes.

“When the politicians demonise ISIS as evil, hormones flood the brain with danger signals,” says Hriar Cabayan. “We forget how to think scientifically. We need to get inside the heads of ISIS fighters and look at ourselves as they look at us.”

Cabayan runs the Pentagon’s Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) programme. His counter-terrorism unit taps the expertise of a volunteer pool of 300 scientists from academia, industry, intelligence agencies and military universities. They convene virtually and physically to answer classified and unclassified questions from combatants, including special operations forces fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The result is a steady stream of white papers largely concluding that the US counter-terrorism strategy – decapitating insurgency leadership, bombing terrorist strongholds – is counter-productive.

Reliable information on terrorist attacks and the effectiveness of counter-terrorist actions is hard to find. START’s Global Terrorism Database, based at the University of Maryland, records details of terrorist incidents as reported by English-language media. It does not record counter-terrorist actions. Crunching event-based data from START’s media sources can reveal statistical patterns in terrorist attacks, including how frequently certain groups attack, numbers of fatalities and types of targets and weapons involved. The Mapping Militant Organizations database, hosted at Stanford University, includes data relevant to the political environments that nurture terrorism, but also relies on English-only news reports and selected academic journals.

Neither database includes acts of terror committed by states, except for Islamic State. The definitional boundaries between insurgency and terrorism and state repression are vague. Militant actions directed against soldiers can be recorded as terrorism, while lethal police actions or government-initiated attacks on civilians are regarded as acts of war, or collateral damage, and so ignored.

Classified data is no more comprehensive: about 80 per cent of top-secret intelligence is drawn from open sources, including media reports. Raw data that contradicts policy or that tarnishes the military is often under-reported or ignored by field officers who are more concerned with living to fight another day. There is censorship, too: a recent investigation by Military Times reports that since 9/11, the Pentagon has failed to publicly report about a third of its air strikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, omitting an estimated 6000 strikes since 2014.

Relying on such imperfect sources can obscure the real motivations and root causes behind events. “The problem is that the press usually has a completely wrong narrative about the perpetrators that is only corrected in the evidence presented at the trials,” says Sageman. National Security Agency files leaked by Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has trouble hiring Arabic and Pashtu speaking intelligence analysts who understand the cultures they monitor. Military intelligence agencies focus more on locating and killing terrorist suspects than on understanding sociological motivations.

Cabayan praises Mironova’s “brave” style of research, and the data from the ground that it brings. At the SMA meeting in March this year, the question was whether the physical defeat of ISIS in Mosul would eliminate the threat. Sixty scientists, including Mironova, examined the problem from a variety of perspectives. Their unequivocal answer was no. Events so far bear out that prediction.

There is no easy solution to the problem of terrorism, says Cabayan, because neither terrorists nor counter-terrorists are entirely rational operators. “The words ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ make no sense,” he says. “People behave emotionally, illogically. Human societies are complex, adaptive systems with unpredictable, emergent properties.”

Many strands of evidence now suggest that terrorist and counter-terrorist systems are a single system governed by feedback loops; the actions and tactics of one side continually evolve in response to the actions of the other, as in a wrestling match. From this perspective, ISIS’s trajectory can be calculated only retrospectively, in response to events.

It is an agile trajectory. Statistical models built around what is known of the frequency and casualty counts of insurgent and terrorist incidents in Syria and Iraq show the jihadists as Davids and conventional armies as lumbering Goliaths. The extremist groups can fragment and coalesce with relative ease: they are “anti-fragile”, strengthening under attack. They are not wedded to charismatic leaders, but are self-organising networks that can operate independently of a single node of control, and have a ready source of new personnel.

The complex, evolving nature of the groups suggests that the US strategy of increasing troop numbers in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan won’t protect against jihadism. That conclusion is borne out by studies of the effects of troop “surges” in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2012, both of which appear to have increased terrorism. “Real complex systems do not resemble static structures to be collapsed; they are… flexible, constantly respun spider webs,” in the words of a 2013 SMA study of insurgency.

Drone strikes aimed at decapitating terrorist cells are likely to fail too. A 2017 study by Jennifer Varriale Carson at the University of Central Missouri concluded that killing high-profile jihadists is “counter-productive, if its main intention is a decrease in terrorism perpetrated by the global jihadist movement”. In July 2016, The Georgetown Public Policy Review reported a “statistically significant rise in the number of terrorist attacks [in Pakistan] occurring after the US drone program begins targeting a given province“.

“Human societies are complex, unpredictable, adaptive systems”
The drone strikes follow laws of unintended consequences, says Craig Whiteside of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “Killing a charismatic leader may inspire a potent posthumous charismatic appeal, or cause splintering that results in otherwise suppressed extreme factions rising in prominence.”

The effects are felt in Manchester as well as Mosul. In her most recent book, Countering Terrorism, Crenshaw writes, “Western military engagement has reinforced the jihadist narrative that Muslims everywhere are targeted. It may have made ISIS more determined to inspire rather than direct terrorism. Nor has military action blocked jihadist organisations [in Iraq and Afghanistan] from regrouping, regenerating, and expanding.”

The evolving nature of the message means it is difficult to combat by broadcasting counter-narratives. Social networks ensure the message feeds back rapidly to disenfranchised sympathisers in the West (see “Network effects“). Data scientists from the Naval Postgraduate School have studied Twitter feeds from ISIS strongholds before and after the US began bombing them in late 2014. Before the bombing campaign, the tweets focused ire on near enemies: local mayors, imams, police and soldiers. As the bombs dropped, the tweets went international, calling for the destruction of Western governments and civilians.

During the next three years, ISIS fighters or ISIS-inspired lone wolves targeted innocents in Brussels, Paris, Orlando, San Bernardino, Nice, Manchester and London. Atmospheric changes in social media reflect changes in the ground-level politics of insurgency, and specifically a willingness to export terrorism abroad. In the words of the sister of Abedi, the Manchester attacker, he “saw the explosives America drops on [Muslim] children in Syria, and he wanted revenge”.

Terrorist groups are seldom defeated by military force; they either achieve political solutions, or they wither away because grievances are solved or dissipate, or they alienate their supporters through excess brutality. Conversely, the US-led bombings of civilians in Fallujah and Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and the atrocities now being committed by the Iraqi liberators against ISIS suspects and their families, risk creating a new round of Sunni grievances.

The grievances of local populations inspire terror attacks around the world

The grievances of local populations inspire terror attacks around the world
Peter Byrne
police street scene
According to a Pentagon-funded meta study of public opinion polls taken during 2015 and 2016, the “vast majority” of Muslims in Iraq and Syria do not support ISIS. But those who do cite religion or ideology far less than social, economic and governance grievances. And in Mosul, the study said, 46 per cent of the population believed coalition air strikes were the biggest threat to the security of their families, while 38 per cent said ISIS was the greatest threat.
If Iraq’s economic and social infrastructure continues to deteriorate, a global war on terror that has to date cost $4 trillion will continue – and more civilian lives will be lost to jihadist attacks in the countries involved and the West. “The Sunnis in Iraq have a genuine grudge,” says Cabayan. “They were left out of the Shia-dominated government that we set up; they are under attack, nobody is protecting them. We can and should provide off-ramps for defeated ISIS members – safety, jobs, civil rights. If not, after the fall of Mosul, we will be facing ISIS 2.0.”

The counter-productive strategies go both ways. The immediate effect of civilian casualties in terror attacks is generally to undermine the ability of the attacked population to perceive the grievances of the attacking group as genuine, and to strengthen the political desire to hit back militarily. Retired US Navy captain Wayne Porter was naval chief of intelligence for the Middle East from 2008 to 2011. He is convinced that the “only solution” to terrorism is to deal with its root causes.

“The only existential threat to us from terrorist attacks, real or imagined, is that we stay on the current counter-productive, anarchically organised, money-driven trajectory,” says Porter, who now teaches counter-terrorism classes to military officers at the Naval Postgraduate School. “Our current counter-terrorism strategy, which is no strategy, will destroy our democratic values.”

When ISIS is driven from west Mosul in July, Mironova is back on the battlefield, gathering more data about the fate of families accused of collaborating. Extrajudicial punishment of Sunnis by Shia and Kurdish forces is causing fear and resentment, and fuelling ISIS, which is far from defeated.

“ISIS is like H2O. It can be in several states: ice, water and vapour,” she says. “In Mosul, it was ice. We melted it. Now it is water, flowing into the countryside, seizing towns. It can vaporise to live and fight another day.”

Devoted to the cause

masked terrorist

Jihadists fuse their individual identity with that of the group
What makes someone prepared to die for an idea? This is a question that concerns anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Resolution of Intractable Conflicts. Research he has led in some of the most embattled regions of the world, including in Mosul, suggests the answer comes in two parts. Jihadists fuse their individual identity with that of the group, and they adhere to “sacred values”.

Sacred values are values that cannot be abandoned or exchanged for material gain. They tend to be associated with strong emotions and are often religious in nature, but beliefs held by fervent nationalists and secularists, for example, may earn the label too. Atran has found that people in fighting groups who hold sacred values are perceived by other members of their group as having a spiritual strength that counts for more than their physical strength. What’s more, sacred values trump the other main characteristic of extremists: a powerful group identity. “When push comes to shove, these fighters will desert their closest buddies for their ideals,” he says.

Atran argues that individuals in this state of mind are best understood, not as rational actors but as “devoted” actors. “Once they’re locked in as a devoted actor, none of the classic interventions seem to work,” he says. But there might be openings. While a sacred value cannot be abandoned, it can be reinterpreted. Atran cites the case of an imam he interviewed who had worked for ISIS as a recruiter, but had left because he disagreed with their definition of jihad. For him, but not for them, jihadism could accommodate persuasion by non-violent means.

As long as such alternative interpretations are seen as coming from inside the group, Atran says, they can be persuasive within it. He is now advising the US, UK and French governments on the dynamics of jihadist networks to help them tackle terrorism. Laura Spinney

Nip it in the bud

Deradicalisation programmes are the bedrock of counter-terrorism strategies in many countries. They aim to combat extremism by identifying individuals who have become radicalised, or are in danger of becoming so, and reintegrating them to the mainstream using psychological and religious counselling as well as vocational training.

In the UK, some 4000 people are reported to the government’s anti-terror programme Prevent every year. The majority – 70 per cent – are suspected Islamic extremists, but about a quarter are far-right radicals, and that number is growing.
Critics fear that these programmes criminalise and stigmatise communities, families and individuals. In addition, there are questions about who governments collaborate with for information and whether public servants should be obliged to report potential radicals.

There is also very little evidence that the programmes work. Most fail to assess the progress of participants, and rates of recidivism are rarely studied. In a recent report, the UK parliament’s human rights committee warned that the government’s counter-extremism strategy is based on unproven theories and risks making the situation worse.

The key to combating extremism lies in addressing its social roots, and intervening early, before anyone becomes a “devoted actor” willing to lay down their lives for a cause, says Scott Atran at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Resolution of Intractable Conflicts (see “Devoted to the cause“). “Until then, there are all sorts of things you can do.” One of the most effective counter measures, he says, is community engagement. High-school football and the scouts movement have been effective responses to antisocial behaviour among the disenfranchised children of US immigrants, for example.

Another promising avenue is to break down stereotypes, says social psychologist Susan Fiske at Princeton University. These are not necessarily religious or racial stereotypes, but generalised stereotypes we all hold about people around us. When we categorise one another, we are particularly concerned with social status and competition, viewing people of low status as incompetent, and competitors as untrustworthy. Throughout history, violent acts and genocides have tended to be perpetrated against high-status individuals with whom we compete for resources, and who therefore elicit our envy, says Fiske.

Fiske’s group has found ways to disrupt stereotypes by making people work together to achieve a common goal, for example. Trivial contact involving “food, festivals and flags” won’t cut it, she says. It has to be a goal people care about and are prepared to invest in, such as a work project or community build. Here, success depends on understanding the minds of your collaborators – “rehumanising” them.

Changing perspectives Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, thinks brain training could achieve similar effects. Social neuroscientists have identified two pathways in the brain by which we relate to others. One mobilises empathy and compassion, allowing us to share another person’s emotions. The second activates theory of mind, enabling us to see a situation from the other’s perspective.

Singer’s group recently completed a project called ReSource, in which 300 volunteers spent nine months doing training, first on mindfulness, and then on compassion and perspective taking. After just a week, the compassion training started to enhance prosocial behaviours, and corresponding structural brain changes were detectable in MRI scans.

Compassion evolved as part of an ancient nurturing instinct that is usually reserved for kin. To extend it to strangers, who may see the world differently from us, we need to add theory of mind. The full results from ReSource aren’t yet published, but Singer expects to see brain changes associated with perspective-taking training, too. “Only if you have both pathways working together in a coordinated fashion can you really move towards global cooperation,” she says. By incorporating that training into school curricula, she suggests, we could build a more cohesive, cooperative society that is more resilient to extremism. Laura Spinney

Network effects

A key feature of jihadist groups is their use of social networks to propagate their ideas. “If you can disrupt those connections, that’s probably your best shot at stopping people from becoming terrorists,” says J. M. Berger at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague and co-author of ISIS: The state of terror.

He believes that the advent of social media has not only increased the number of people extremist groups can reach, but also the potency of their message, because it allows them to circumvent safeguards against revisionism and hate speech. Those most susceptible to the propaganda, his research suggests, are not the chronically poor or deprived, but people experiencing uncertainty in their lives – recent converts, young people who have just left the family home, those with psychiatric problems.

Extremist groups are adept at fomenting collective uncertainty, for example by provoking hostility between ethnic groups. At the same time, they present themselves as upholders of clear and unwavering values, an attractive message to individuals who are undergoing potentially destabilising transformations. Through social networks, those experiencing uncertainty can learn about and even enter into contact with extremist networks.

The G7 recognised this with its recent statement that it will “combat the misuse of the internet by terrorists”. But this is easier said than done, says Berger. “It’s easy to demand social media companies do something about extremism, but much harder to define what they should do in a way that is consistent with the values of liberal democracies.” Laura Spinney
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