Thinking Systematically about the G20 Statement

Follow-up to the classroom exercise in systems thinking to sharpen your analytical skills that was introduced yesterday. Including lots of discussion, this exercise would make an appropriate undergraduate lesson for two one-hour classes.

The G20 that just met to resolve the global financial crisis made a significant decision that fell short of the recommendations made by the Stiglitz report to the U.N. that was submitted in March. Although the U.N. commission headed by Stiglitz recommended restructuring the highly restricting rules used by international lending institutions so as to grant poor recipient countries the flexibility to implement desperately needed social welfare measures, the G20 instead focused simply on adding funding to the international lending institutions, thereby increasing the political power of the lending institutions rather than the recipient state governments.

How should we begin to think about the implications of this decision? Is it good news or bad news for everyone who is concerned about the state of the world’s economy? Following the method outlined in yesterday’s post, the apparent “reference mode” (mental model; initial point of view) of the G20 underlying their decision is presented.

(Note: for the purposes of this post, I assume goodwill and sincerity on the part of the G20; i.e., I assume here that the G20 truly desired to resolve the economic crisis to the benefit of all mankind. Of course, if you make a different assumption, e.g., that the G20 was out to exploit the world for the benefit of the rich countries, then the reference mode I have drawn would not represent the G20’s point of view. Normally, in using this methodology, you draw the reference mode honestly to represent what you personally believe before you start analyzing the problem of interest to you. Here, instead, I am guessing—based on the logic of the G20’s statement—what the real intent of that body was.)

The G20 Reference Mode says that:

  1. The key variable impacting the well-being of the world’s poor is the amount of aid;
  2. The amount of aid and the well-being of the poor covary.

QUESTION: is the G20’s presumed perspective correct?

Consider the following initial causal loop diagram as an approach to analyzing the accuracy of the G20 perspective. I am suggesting that this causal loop diagram captures the key issue: does a rise in World Bank & IMF funding under current rules help or harm the well-being of the world’s poor? The argument can be made that increased aid under current rules results in the impoverishment of local populations even as, e.g., extractive industries designed to export resources cheaply to the West flourish. The purpose of this post is not to answer that question but simply to structure an analytical approach that could profitably be used, say, in a classroom, systematically to illuminate this problem.

Feel free to create a completely different explanation of the core behavior of socio-economics in poor states receiving World Bank/IMF aid if you wish. Alternatively, if you wish to accept this causal loop diagram, first, think about its implications and then consider how it might be improved.

Implications of the causal loop diagram as it stands:

  • The black arrows represent the initial effect – the G20 evidently believes the effect is positive; do you agree? Will the rate of positive impact on social welfare be as rapid as positive impact on resource extraction? Will it remain positive? Will it be linear?
  • The green arrows represent a second stage effect. The G20 evidently believes this will, in both cases, also be positive. Do you agree? Specifically, does a successful extraction industry (consider oil from Iraq or Nigeria or Colombia; gas from Central Asia) equate to a general rise in social welfare?
  • The blue arrows represent feedbacks to international aid institution policies. What might the nature of such feedback be, assuming it exists?
  • The red arrow indicates a direct impact of the state of resource extraction industry on social welfare. The literature is vast; you may wish to start with Abdelrahman Munif’s novel about the arrival of Western oilmen to Saudi Arabia. What sign would you put on the red arrow (or do you think there is no impact at all)?

How it might be improved:

  • Add new variables?
  • Add intervening steps (e.g., along the red arrow)?
  • Add a feedback arrow from “popular living standards in poor countries” to “World Bank/IMF aid levels?

Please do not tell anyone, but here’s a secret: this post was not that difficult to write. It is about thinking systematically, which turns out to be easy once you get in the habit because, by definition, you do it one step at a time. This thinking process was so easy that, for example, a serious New York Times reporter reviewing the G20 statement would have had time to do it. In fact, this thinking process was so easy that even a G20 decisionmaker would have had time to do it. I wonder if any of them did.


Systems Thinking Experiment: For Classroom…or Decisionmakers

Thinking logically about complex topics is the critical first step missed by everyone from beginners to senior national decisionmakers. Ironically, the first steps really aren’t that hard. So here’s an experiment brief and useful enough to fit into any classroom schedule or crisis national decisionmaking process. Professors who would like some Internet-based pro bono support to run this experiment in their foreign policy or economic policy class are invited to get in touch. (National decisionmakers will be expected to pay.)


A Simple Experiment

Step 1. Select an analytically substantive question.

I recommend a question of real depth, phrased generically, e.g., “What are the implications of the policy of ‘security through strength’?”

Step 2. Draw a reference mode.

A reference mode is a graph with time on the x-axis showing what you think happens. This experiment is an exploration, and when you want to explore, it is good to know where you are starting. Think of the “reference mode” like knowing the coordinates of your car before you start a hike. The y-axis represents whatever variable you feel is key. Of course, you can do multiple graphs to show different processes.

Step 3. Draw a causal loop diagram.

A causal loop diagram is a diagram showing how the forces at play affect behavior. It is a “loop” because dynamics cycle back (e.g., the more you complement me, the more I like you). In contrast to the very simple picture of the reference mode graph, the causal loop diagram identifies each force and its impact. Start with A affects B and B affects A. Then add details.


That is the essence of a simple experiment in logical thinking that can be incrementally pushed pretty much as far as you have the intellectual stamina to take it. Here are examples analyzing military control of the political process and how war can erupt even when everyone wants peace. If you happen to have the luxury of real data, you can transform your causal loop diagram into a mathematical model using simple software such as Stella, but even five minutes on a napkin over lunch will clarify your understanding of a tough problem. Figuring out the key force in a complicated problem such as the impact on a neighboring country of a policy of security through strength and then figuring out the impact of that force turn out not to be as straightforward as many overconfident experts think. Making a formal effort to do this, even for five minutes, is push-ups for the mind.

The point of this post is to suggest that such an experiment, valuable as it is, is easy enough for anyone to try, easy enough for me to support via the Internet. Of course, it can get complicated if you want to identify all the variables, and there are numerous posts on this blog illustrating that point. But it’s the first step that counts.

Diagnosing the Health of Political Systems (Swat, Israel)

EXCERPT: Superficial symptoms (wars, threats, revolts) strongly suggest that the whole global political system is fundamentally unhealthy. For everyone’s protection, we need to be able to measure the system’s “blood pressure” before it has a “heart attack.” Here’s a tool, tested on Israel and Pakistan.

If a person began experiencing a wide range of severe but superficially unrelated symptoms of bad health (e.g., dizziness, gangrene in a toe and a finger, difficulty swallowing), one would examine the overall state of the person’s health, looking for an underlying cause because it strains credulity to imagine that someone would simultaneously start suffering from all those odd symptoms unless some underlying common cause existed. Despite the analogous situation in the global political system, little attention is given to questioning the state of the system’s health or searching for a common cause for all the superficial symptoms (current events) on which media and politicians focus. Superficial symptoms are treated individually without inquiry into underlying causes. Although it may be intuitively obvious to the few who bother to think about it that the global political system is fundamentally diseased, it is difficult to do more than express trite words of horror in the absence of good theory, methodology, or even metrics for measuring how bad the symptoms are.

At the most abstract extreme, we need a structured perspective, a theory. “Globalization is evil; we must return to fundamentalist religious beliefs” or “economic inequality is the root of injustice” or, much worse, blatant attacks on some specific country, religion, ethnic group, or political philosophy are the type of candidates current today. All seem to fall short of a universal standard that invites application to oneself as well as one’s adversaries. All also offer single causes. A theory of political behavior defined abstractly and offering a neutral framework for analyzing the behavior of all actors against a single standard and integrating multiple causes could be a valuable counterweight to today’s prejudices.

At the other, most concrete, extreme, we also need ways of measuring the degree to which behavior varies from the ideals defined by whatever structured perspective we adopt; otherwise, what good is it? Here, we hardly even have candidates: the idea of measuring the state of the global political system, the quality of our behavior, hardly even occurs to anyone. This concrete level begs for consideration; moreover, doing so is probably an essential step toward creating a good theory.

Today we do not know how healthy our global political system is, whether it is getting better or worse, whether the rate of change is increasing or decreasing, what the causal variables are, or how they are related. We have neither a good vocabulary for discussing these issues nor the methods to study them. In a word, we need a new science – a science for diagnosing the health of the global political system.

A first step in this direction is to define a set of criteria, analogous to blood pressure and cholesterol for diagnosing the health of an individual. For the global or any other political system, the following criteria are proposed: functionality, budget, reserves, defense, growth, feedback, learning, leadership cohesiveness, mass solidarity, vision, and strategy. Once one is satisfied with the criteria and their definitions, one can consider what analytical methods will be useful to measure the criteria.

Considering the first criterion as an example, assume that any system must function, so asking how well the global political system functions is obviously an important question. “Functionality” may be defined in many ways. Here, moral functionality will be addressed. Moral functionality can be studied by means of two

continua (or axes), one going from “individual” to “cultural” and the other going from “low status” to “high status.” The idea is to make judgments about the moral functionality of the system as a function of how representative of the system an action is: the higher the status of an actor and the further one moves from individual behavior to behavior that is culturally ingrained, the more the act can be said to represent “the system.”

The result of using these two axes will be a grid with four quadrants in which the behavior of any actor in a system can be located. Note that this tool does not assess the morality of an act; rather, it assesses the degree to which the act is representative of the system. The goal here is not to judge individual actions but to see the degree to which aberrant actions are representative of the system as a whole. In a word, the goal is to measure the moral health of the system.

The arrow going from Quadrant A to Quadrant D shows roughly the degree of danger of the action to the system, with the greatest danger being in Quadrant D. That is, the higher the status and the more accepted by the whole culture the aberrant behavior is, the more dangerous it is to the health, and presumably the survival, of the system. Examples of such behavior include biased reporting by high prestige media organs, corporate crime that is excused by the regime, and violence committed by paramilitaries sanctioned by the regime.

To use this tool, one could simply locate examples of aberrant behavior. If specific types of aberrant behavior are categorized (e.g., fairly bad, bad, really bad), then the tool can support more discriminating analysis. To make the conclusions very clear, one could select a specific type of behavior (e.g., paramilitary activity), in which case the chart would show the degree to which paramilitary activity was representative of the system.

For this test, assume the following categorization of actions:

  • Class I – verbal hostility;
  • Class II – advocacy or use of force short of death vs. individuals;
  • Class III – advocacy or use of deadly force vs. in dividuals;
  • Class IV –advocacy or use of force short of death vs. groups;
  • Class V – advocacy or use of deadly force vs. groups.

Note that this is a very simple scale; distinguishing “advocacy” from actual “use” (doubling the number of categories) might be preferable for a full-scale application of the method.

A perfect society would have no examples of any of these categories of behavior. A good, real-world democracy would have minimal examples even of Class 1 in Quadrant D (i.e., bad apples would surely exist but be low status individuals, not leaders or representatives of cultural norms). Key questions for exploration with this tool would be the degree to which aberrant individuals gain status, e.g., by being elected to office, or the degree to which aberrant behavior gains acceptance by the society as “normal” behavior. Specifically, one might track the electoral success of individuals advocating ethnic cleansing or track the acceptance by the mainstream media of the concept of ethnic cleansing. In Israel’s current election, for example, calls by candidates for ethnic cleansing existed but were harshly criticized in the mainstream Israeli media.

In sum, we have a device for visualizing the degree to which aberrant behavior is ingrained in a society, so we can analyze data and make informed statements about the political system’s state of health and its direction of change. (A useful upgrade immediately comes to mind: a way of tracking not just the direction but the rate of change.)

The method will be applied as follows:

  1. for each aberrant event, give class and actor;
  2. locate event in landscape.

For an initial application to test the utility of the measuring device, two cases that are widely separated politically, culturally will be used: Israel’s stance toward its regional adversaries and all sides in Swat Valley, Pakistan.

Data for initial application:

  1. V -Livni calls for “force and a lot of force” against Hamas, 2/1/ 09
  2. III – Boim calls for murder of Hamas prime minister, 2/4
  3. IV – Barak OKs new West Bank settlement, 2/1
  4. V – Barak asserts right to attack Lebanon for importing unspecified arms, 2/2
  5. IV – Ben-Ami calls for ethnic cleansing
  6. III – Taliban kill officials
  7. IV – Taliban destroy schools
  8. II – Taliban burn shops
  9. V – Pakistan attacks villages
  10. IV – Lieberman calls for loyalty tests and expulsion of those who fail

The visualization sends a clear message: aberrant political behavior in both Swat and Israel has reached a level of systemic acceptance sufficient to raise a red flag about the underlying health of each political system. Aberrant behavior (defined as behavior that uses force to achieve goals) for both political systems clusters in Quadrants B (high status, individual) and D (high status, cultural). For Swat, this result may surprise few, but the finding that Israeli political system is similarly challenged by “ill health” might raise the eyebrows of many Americans. (Just as much goes into assessing an individual’s physical health, much goes into assessing the moral functionality of a political system, but we have checked the blood pressure of the Israeli and Swat political systems and found both to be in danger of heart attacks.

Read More

Rise of Israeli extremists

Rise of Swat extremists

Analyzing the health of political systems

Gaza: The Implications of Distorting History

A brief analysis of how Western media distort the truth…

The Distortion (Reuters):
A governance crisis erupted after Hamas won a January 2006 election and widened when the group drove Fatah forces from Gaza 18 months later, leaving Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in partial control only of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The above historical summary rewritten to reflect what actually happened:
A governance crisis erupted after Tel Aviv and Washington intervened to subvert the Hamas regime set up following its January 2006 election victory. At first Tel Aviv and Washington employed economic pressure in an attempt to destroy the ability of Hamas to govern. This governing crisis widened when military assistance was provided to Fatah by Washington and Tel Aviv along with encouragement to launch a civil war to prevent Hamas from governing. This occurred and resulted in Hamas being kicked out of power in the West Bank but using force to retain control over Gaza, thereby creating two competing Palestinian administrations.

The harm in such distortions of history is clear: we cannot make informed decisions or design effective policy without knowing the context that explains current events.

The implication of the Reuters distortion is that Hamas illegally seized control; from this, it would follow that Hamas is wedded to violence and only understands the language of force and that Israel is the victim. One would logically conclude from this distortion that therefore, negotiations are pointless; the only logical policy is a fight to the death.

The implication of the corrected summary is exactly the opposite – that it was Hamas that was following democratic rules and that Tel Aviv and Washington drove Hamas back to violence; from this it would follow that Tel Aviv and Washington were not trying to persuade Hamas to renounce violence but were determined to marginalize Hamas and prevent the emergence of Palestinian democracy, to ensure that Palestine remain dependent on Israel, and that Israel is not the victim but the aggressor. One would logically conclude from this corrected version that therefore, negotiations with Hamas are a reasonable option that can be expected to succeed if pursued with sincerity; that the cycle of violence in Israeli-Palestinian relations is the fault of Israeli intransigence.

New Newsletter Series on Enduring Global Issues

I have started a new series of one-page newsletters on enduring issues in global politics. The newsletters are designed to provide a concise overview of what is happening on an issue that perplexes most Americans and why we should care. The level of detail and the focus on the future implications of the issue for global stability and U.S. national security should be appropriate for undergraduate university classes and members of the general public who are concerned about voting thoughtfully. The newsletters are listed in the right column, with one on Gaza being the first in the new series.

Explaining Political Motivation: Respect, Security, & Power

The endless and usually fruitless debate about the real nature of Islamic politics suggests that a new and more basic approach is needed to shed light on what is happening in the Moslem world and how to deal with it. Rather than starting with detailed questions about specific people or groups or religions that conceal piles of unstated assumptions, consider the following basic model of human political behavior: political behavior is a function of security, respect, and power.

To simplify even further, begin without the “power” variable; it is not unreasonable to assume that most people will be quite satisfied to have security and be treated with respect. This model is parsimonious but goes a long way toward explaining behavior that public figures agonize over as “inexplicable.”

The Political Motivation model shows two basic motivations for political behavior:

  • the perceived unmet need for security;
  • the perceived unmet need for respect.

Note that “security” is defined to incorporate physical, economic, and psychological security. Note also that the values “sufficient” and “lacking” are defined from the actor’s perspective.

To facilitate discussion, the model can be represented as a set of alternative scenarios, based on making each variable bivariate and considering the resulting possibilities. Considering only the perceived unfilled need for respect and security, this generates four ideal extreme alternative responses: Outrage, where the actor is truly motivated; Satisfaction, where the actor is not motivated at all; and two intermediate alternatives.

Since many people clearly want a degree of power beyond all rational justification, including an unmet desire for power as a third variable probably buys significant additional explanatory value without making the model of motivations too complicated. Adding Power generates a total of eight extreme alternatives. The blue or gray octants represent exactly the same choices as in the 2-D version; the red/brown/yellow/green octants represent the newly added alternatives in which a desire for more power adds motivation.

By extension, you can expect frustration and, in some cases, protest—perhaps violent protest—to result when a political actor fails to obtain the desired degree of security, respect, or power. That gets us to the concept of political behavior – namely, what influences the type of behavior (e.g., peaceful or violent, rigid or compromising); preliminary to that, however, is the question of what motivates an actor to get involved in politics in the first place. Any number of other factors may in fact affect behavior, but to start analyzing behavior, forget individuals, forget religions, forget ideology, forget nationality. Just ask three questions:

  • Does the actor (person, group, government, country) have the desired degree of security?
  • Does the actor have the desired degree of respect?
  • Does the actor have the desired degree of power?

If the answer to any of the three questions is no, then you will probably already have identified the primary cause of that actor’s dissatisfaction. Rather than agonizing over whether or not the actor is “evil” or the religion a “religion of peace,” focus on these basic sources of dissatisfaction. It follows that such a focus also shows the way to resolving the issue: instead of dreaming that getting a new leader, changing a party’s platform, replacing a regime, modifying an educational system, or preventing some action from occurring will lead to the desired outcome, this focus on fundamentals leads one to think about changing the underlying conditions that actually gave rise to the problem. Give people the respect they feel they deserve and they will be less likely to support a flag-waving politician. Give people basic security and they will be less likely to support a war of aggression. Power is a different sort of thing, but the lust for power on the part of a few is not likely to cause others nearly as much difficulty as it otherwise might if the many perceive themselves to be secure and respected.

Try it. Apply this model to whatever international political problem you want. Do the answers to those three questions help to understand why “they” behave the way they do?

Pakistan: Ominous Political Trends

Continuing the analysis of Pakistan’s future
on the basis of a model of political violence

Taking an initial, fairly high-level look at the Pakistani political situation, if we group political actors into three broad groups – the military, Islamic activists, and democratic forces, out of the eight original scenarios in the model of political behavior discussed yesterday, only two (Violence and Cold Steel) currently seem relevant. All three of these groups are very broad and include institutional and individual actors representing a wide spectrum of attitudes and behavior, but it is at least possible to say that the military, Islamic activists, and even democratic foreces include significant components displaying behavior fitting into the Violence Scenario; that is, components exhibiting a preference for force rather than compromise to achieve their goals and that have a high degree of ideological commitment.

Methodological Note 1: The placements of all three groups in the graph represents their most extreme elements. A useful enhancement would be a graphic showing both the range of opinion within a group and the weight. A key question for the future of Pakistani politics, for example, is the degree of radical Islamic sympathy within the military.

In addition, this initial discussion has also already exposed a deficiency in the model: the absence of an Ideological Heterogeneity variable. To ask if a political system is highly ideological is only part of the story; I hypothesize that violence will be significantly more likely in a system in which several, mutually contradictory ideologies exist than in an ideological but united system.

In Pakistan:

  • The military is arguably divided between secular nationalists and Islamists (though one could also argue that the typical Pakistani military perspective does not see nationalism and Islamism as contradictory at all but a partnership in which the military defends Pakistani sovereignty with the Islamists both minding civil society and taking care of tactical issues on which the military prefers not to get its hands dirty). Moreover, devotion to both nationalist and Islamist feeling appears frequently to be intense.
  • The populace is divided between democrats and Islamists and, perhaps, those who will accept any government capable of improving the economy. Again, devotion to these ideologies appears frequently to be intense.


Even more ominous than the positions of key actors are the directions in which they are moving.
As violence continues and the confrontation between the dictatorship and popular demands for democracy as well as that between authority and Islamic militancy seem to be intensifying, the political environment appears to be getting increasingly challenging. U.S. pressure on the regime to attack Islamic radicals risks cloaking Islamists in nationalist garb and simultaneously making them both more extreme and more popular.

Conflict resolution strategy is also becoming more reliant on force:

  • The use of force by the Military has recently become extreme in all directions, including not only the attack on the Red Mosque and Swat Valley but Musharraf’s “coup against himself” and his blatant arrest of judiciary;
  • Source

  • Islamic militants are not only crossing the border into Afghanistan and Kashmir but now fighting against the dictatorship that sponsored them;
  • Among the elite, quintessential middle class lawyers put their lives on the line in the street even in the face of extraordinary police brutality, while both Sharif and Bhutto risked their lives by essentially forcing their way back into Pakistan.

As for the level of ideological commitment, it is hard to see signs of decline; both adherents of democracy and adherents of Islamic rule appear to be moving toward greater ideological commitment. Although the intensity of popular feeling following the return of Bhutto may fade quickly, the resilience of the judiciary in the face of government oppression has been both impressive and steady now for at least half a year. Compromises between the Musharraf regime and Islamic militants have been breaking down over the last year, as well. Moreover, Musharraf’s 1999 Kargil adventure and the sending of terrorists into Kashmir both suggest that the military’s supernationalism has been rising over the last decade.

Methodological Note 2: Tracking the trend line for each group shown in the above graphic would enhance its analytical value.

The above analysis raises a number of serious, long-term questions about the future of Pakistan that go well beyond the fate of individual politicians, instead focusing on institutional integrity and the dynamics that cause behavior.

  • To what degree will the military remain united?
  • Will the internal divisions in the military between nationalists and Islamists make the military more cautious and analytical or drive it toward internal crackdown and international adventure?
  • Will the key players be able to reverse the recent slide toward violence and find a way to minimize the increasingly dangerous and extreme ideological conflict or will the system continue what seems to be its evolution toward zero-sum conflict?
  • To what degree will the military be analytical vs ideological?
  • To what degree will the middle class become more ideologically committed to strident demands for democracy now, even at the cost of violence in the face of the regime’s lack of sympathy?
  • To what degree will Islamic feeling spread in the military and among the downtrodden poor?
  • To what degree will Islamic feeling become radicalized?
  • To what degree will all sides reach the conclusion that violence to achieve their political ends is justified?

And perhaps the most fateful question of all for Pakistan’s future:

Given that the military, Islamic radicals, and the U.S. all currently lean
heavily toward solutions based on force, can the Pakistani population resist
following suit or be a significant political player if it remains committed
to peaceful methods?

Future posts will discuss Pakistani political trends and U.S. policy options…

Scenario Evolution

A practical method for studying the evolution of scenarios illustrated
with the example of violence

Scenarios as distinct alternative possible futures (A) is a useful approach, but B is much closer to the reality: it does not matter where you start; the actual course of reality as it unfolds will follow a wandering path because the scenarios are really tendencies in competition. “Which one will come true?” is almost certainly the wrong question. More fruitful questions are: “Which one are we headed toward at the moment…and why…and for how long?” Such questions, assisted by Model B’s emphasis on interaction—rather than choice–among scenarios, imply that scenarios evolve and invite consideration of the dynamics controlling that evolution. Thus, Model B focuses attention on the evolutionary process, which in reality will certainly touch on several of the theoretically “alternative” scenarios. The message of Model B is to think about the probable future scenario chain and the sequence along that chain, as well as the timing and sequence of the various steps in the chain. Where traditional scenario analysis focuses on the scenarios (the boxes), Model B refocuses attention on scenario evolution (the arrows). Such thinking also leads to issues like time slices and sequence.

Dynamics underlying scenario evolution lie at the core of this new approach to analyzing the future. Their endless complexities cry out for visual aids to simplify analysis. Returning to the slide of the Crusader-Aggressor Coalition, for example, think of this not as depicting two actors but as depicting two alternative scenarios. Now the meaning is that we anticipate the possibility of a Crusader Scenario coming true but also see the possibility of an Aggressor Scenario coming true. Moreover, we see that these two scenarios could merge to create a new scenario, combining features of each, i.e., a future characterized by expansion fueled by a coalition of ideologically-oriented “crusaders” in league with coldly calculating “aggressors.” This is a model of the actual European Crusades in the Mideast that combined Catholic extremism and desires to enhance Europe’s international trade competitiveness.

Time Slices.
Rather than vaguely defining scenarios as covering, e.g., “the next 10 years,” pay attention to the likely duration of a scenario without making the assumption that all the scenarios one defines will occur over the same timeframe. Start by assuming that the scenarios are short-term and unstable unless an alternative assumption can explicitly be justified.

Before worrying too much about the time of a scenario, consider sequence. Does a Crusader Scenario logically lead to a Violence Scenario? Identify logical chains of scenario evolution before worrying about the likely duration of each scenario. Timing is important but highly dependent on details and thus unknowable when thinking about the future. We should, however, be able to specify theoretically logical evolutionary paths, and to the extent that we do this, we will have valuable warnings.

True Believers: A Theoretical Example.
Returning to the dynamics around others’ perceptions of True Believers, it was hypothesized that the faith (ideological commitment) of even a peaceful true believer would make outsiders uneasy, provoking them to take actions that either would in fact be aggressive or would be viewed by the true believer as aggressive. Thus, we might anticipate that even the benignly-intentioned Idealist might become frightened and start a defensive arms build-up. The Idealist might also form a new alliance. Each move could be seen by the Peaceful True Believer as a threat, inducing the Peaceful True Believer to evolve into a Militant True Believer and subsequently form a counteralliance with an Aggressor.

It is easy to think of the octants as distinct actors in a system, as described in the above paragraph, but the story can of course be told in terms of scenarios. Given a system containing both Peaceful True Believers and Idealists, might the distinction between those with and those without faith by itself provoke violence or can we be confident that the future will be one of a peaceful society composed of some with faith and some without? Unfortunately, to the degree that people without faith distrust those with faith, an arms race and the rise of competing alliances may create a tense world. The greater the tension, the greater the pressure on all to become militant and the greater the opportunity for any (i.e., the Aggressors) who are by nature militant to gain influence. Thus, the likely scenario of the near future lies somewhere between Peaceful True Believer and Idealist. By the medium term, this may evolve toward Crusader or Aggressor, resulting in Violence over the long-term.

Class Project on Islamic Politics




Class Project on Islamic Politics

Given the enormous amount of misunderstanding between Islamic and Western societies, education seems the only hope of avoiding needless disaster. Speaking for my own society, it is clear that American society has an extremely serious shortage of specialists in Islamic affairs: nowhere nearly enough to educate Americans about the economic, social, and political conditions in the Islamic world. I have also found in speaking to both academic and general public audiences that Americans thirst for information about Islamic affairs.

American society needs to think creatively about how to share the expertise that it has. This is by no means impossible in the Internet age. By using blogs, WIKIs, GoogleEarch, and a carefully selected set of online news sources, small schools can have access for free to an almost limitless range of information. As an example, I offer the classroom exercise described below for any educational institution that wishes to take advantage of it.

I pledge to provide support to this project if a professor wants to try it, and I invite specialists in Islamic affairs to offer their own volunteer, on-line support. Imagine a team of specialists in Islamic affairs ready to participate in an on-line dialogue with any group of students looking for guidance on this confusing area of such significance for the world.

One could imagine any number of projects. Here’s an initial proposal…


Step 1. Select a posting from this blog that raises a question worth

Step 2. Assign your students to:

  1. Read the posting;
  2. Submit a comment to my blog at the end of that posting. (You may
    wish to inform students that you will grade them on the logic of whatever
    argument they make in their comment.)

Step 3. I will, to the degree feasible, try to respond to the comments – possibly by means of a follow-up posting to the blog.

Optional Step 4. Ask students to select at least one of the news sources or blogs listed on the right column of my blog and search through it to find evidence that would:

  1. support their argument;
  2. undercut their argument.

In conclusion, assign the students to write a short essay evaluating their argument taking both sets of evidence into account.

Optional Step 5. I invite students who are proud of their
essay to submit it to me. I will consider publishing it on my blog.


Let’s see how informative a dialogue we can generate!