Honor-Shame Pathologies and 4th Generation Warfare

One of my colleagues with whom I discuss honor-shame issues is Doyle Quiggle, who in addition to his ability to think about what Daniel Lord Smail calls deep history (governed by honor-shame dynamics), also happens to work on military issues: COIN, Fourth Generation Warfare. He recently sent me the following query, which prompted me a formulation that brings together a number of threads of thought:

What aspects of your research and scholarship would you apply to help us reveal the honor dynamics of Somalia? 

The stubborn and irreducible pathology of conflict in Somalia must be accepted as an existential given. Failure to perceive this pathology and its generative sources condemns the analyst and operator to alienation from the primary psychological, social, economic, and security realities of this region.  That blindness will lead to fatal operational consequences, sooner or later. To operate effectively, let alone establish lasting communal stability in any part of this region, we must first see the pathology of conflict in this region for what it is, accept it, no matter how ugly it might be, and then attack its sources. Once exposed, this pathology is immediately seen to require an integrative “oncological” approach to killing both its tumors and its feeder cells.  However, the decisive operational question today is this: Do we continue to pursue a chemotherapeutic tactic (“paint & kill” drone strikes)? Or do we attempt to administer homeopathic remedies? Is the long-term strategy containment or stability?

A strategy of stability requires an organic, homeopathic approach. Paramount to this approach is co-opting local moral authority.  Local moral authority is used as a kind of homeopathy to kill the cancerous stem cells of Islamic extremism and jihad by use of their own pathogens.

[For further elaboration framing the problem, see below.]

My response:

I’d study the pathologies of honor-shame, i.e. the cases when warrior/stratified, zero-sum, cultures find themselves faced with a more powerful positive-sum culture and after losing repeated zero-sum encounters, instead of adapting, going negative-sum: I’d rather lose more and drag you down in the shit than let you win; I’ll even sacrifice myself/honor/family just to make you miserable.

The classic case of this is the Arab-Israeli conflict where, in response to losing a hard-zero-sum war with Israel, the Arabs were in such denial — recognize Israel? admit defeat? impossible! — that they turned the Arab refugees from their lost war into weapons in a longer war against the Zionist entity. (The original meaning of Nakba/catastrophe was coined by the refugees about what Arab leaders had inflicted on them.)

The Palestinians then became the sacrificial pawn in a war of honor, and the Arab leadership then displayed them to the West (esp Europe) as miserable victims of Zionism. Thus, warriors, already shamed by a loss to a non-warrior people (Jews, no less!), display their own victimization at the hands of these Jews (al y’day Yahud), in an effort to get pity and support from outsiders (Crusaders, no less!). How shameful! How humiliating! How impotent! To be a Palestinian, betrayed by your leaders, paraded before the world as victims, having no real (potential) friend other than your (religious and cultural) enemy!

Shame murders, where washing men’s shame in their woman’s blood, becomes more prominent than washing their women’s shame in the blood of the seducer, suits this impotent rage and virtually defines the pathology.

This condition of impotent rage brought about among Palestinian males brings on a kind of schizoid split between the tribal and the religious warrior codes. Both are deeply wounded. But the tribal wants to rebound, to regain some sense of honor in the present. Further self-abasement is precisely not what they want. 

But others thought differently: Arab leaders, the most humiliated, flipped into a state of denial. They had not lost, it was just a battle in a long-war of honor. Their politics aligned perfectly with the religious triumphalism whereby Jews must be dhimmi in Dar al Islam. Their stance, while denying the humiliation, prolongs it, leaves the alpha male Arab Muslim in a state of enduring shame, from which he cannot escape in the present.

The terrible cognitive dissonance involved in living in this state of imposed humiliation, in the sacrificial service of a long-term (cosmic) goal, must be extremely painful. So far, not too many Palestinians like Francis of Assissi have appeared, and way too many suicide terrorists (despite the “innovations” in Islamic principles). The enduringly humiliated warrior who feels he must show strength to regain honor no matter what the cost joins Jihad.

The “progressive” West, in mistaking the second Intifada for a “war of liberation” and cheering on the inauguration of suicide terror as a principle Jihadi weapon and strategy, as long as it targeted Israelis, contributed immensely to the power of this response (and the unconscionable delay of the West in figuring out what was going on).

Place de la République, Paris, January 2015, after the Bataclan attack.

Writ larger, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a specific and highly toxic case of a broader Muslim-infidel conflict. Modern Westerners (i.e., [post-]Christians who have gone beyond the primary honor code) pose an impossible dilemma to Islam and believing Muslims. Islam is the last, the most openly imperial, and the most supersessionist of all the religious monotheisms. Triumphalist Muslims cannot bear to face defeat at the hands of the very faiths that they believe they have superseded and displaced. It disrupts their cosmic destiny. 

Caliphaters are the 21st cn response to this dilemma, and they can manifest themselves in a wide variety of forms from the most brutal (ISIS Caliphate, Somalia if i understand you), to the most sophisticated (Da’is in the West). The Caliphater conviction that this generation will see the advent of the global caliphate, like the early 20th century Arab belief in “nationalism,” offers hope to those who must endure this schizoid split at the hands of the West.

To return to your final, pregnant comment:

A strategy of stability requires an organic, homeopathic approach. Paramount to this approach is co-opting local moral authority.  Local moral authority is used as a kind of homeopathy to kill the cancerous stem cells of Islamic extremism and jihad by use of their own pathogens.

The local homeopathy needs to be a new (restored) primary honor code whereby the community can regulate its members and manage its literal and metaphorical testosterone. Rather than shoot for an extremely demanding “modern” secondary or tertiary code, this should have (as should all stable honor codes), a healthy respect for the hard-wiring of humans, for the primary codes that have governed over a hundred millennia of human life on the planet, a respect these communities have in far greater measure than we martians from the first world. Local morality is about what the community forbids and punishes through honor codes.

Can these people, lives shattered by war, do something like that? How that happens? What combination of their own initiative (has to be big), and our intervention (has to be light) will work for the creation of a new primary honor code to come about? Can the new honor-code emit memes that spread? Who knows? But I would venture to guess that some of the more powerful elements of apocalyptic millennialism would come into play quite a bit. It follows the pattern laid out by Anthony Wallace in his discussion of revitalization movements.

I’m not sure how much that answers your questions or is just a free association off of them. It does, however, bringing together the issues of Palestinian identity, shame murders, suicide bombing, supersessionist religiosity, primary honor-codes, and jihadi melt-downs from Afganistan to Somalia.

4th generation warfare: (from subsequent Quigglian emails)

A strategy of stability requires an organic, homeopathic approach. Paramount to this approach is co-opting local moral authority.  Local moral authority is used as a kind of homeopathy to kill the cancerous stem cells of Islamic extremism and jihad by use of their own pathogens.

This form of therapy is responsive to the parameters of 4GW.

Lt. Col Gregory Thiele reminds us:

Fourth Generation war poses an especially difficult problem to operational art: put simply, it is difficult to operationalize. Often, Fourth Generation opponents have strategic centers of gravity that are intangible. These may involve proving their manhood to their comrades and local women, obeying the commandments of their religion, or demonstrating their tribe’s bravery to other tribes. Because operational art is the art of focusing tactical actions on enemy strategic centers of gravity, operational art becomes difficult or even impossible.

We must be mindful of the catastrophe that German trainers, who disregarded expert warnings, experienced in 2009 when they trained 1,000 Somali police forces, equipped them with weapons, uniforms, state-of-the-art CT techniques, and then discovered, too late, that all 1,000 trainees joined Al Shabab upon returning to Somalia. German mistakes are instructive. They trained Somalis on Ethiopian soil. They employed training techniques designed during the Balkan wars for a specifically “post-magical” European worldview. They vetted trainees upon the advice of un-tested local informants. Worst of all, they trained Somalis non-emically, completely outside of all key frames of reference of the trainees. Germans essentially trained Somalis within a moral vacuum.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and AS were quick to fill it.

Subsequent efforts by other European partners to train Somali police and defense forces have similarly failed to understand that, in this region, moral authority is the gateway both to individual and to communal stability. 

Lind writes:

While the three classic levels of war carry over into the Fourth Generation, they are joined there by three new levels which may ultimately be more important. Colonel Boyd identified these three new levels as the physical, the mental, and the moral levels. Furthermore, he argued that the physical level – killing people and breaking things – is the least  powerful, the moral level is the most powerful, and the mental level lies between the other two. Colonel Boyd argued that this is especially true in guerrilla warfare, which is more closely related to Fourth Generation war than is formal warfare between state militaries. The history of guerrilla warfare, from the Spanish guerrilla war against Napoleon through Israel’s experience in southern Lebanon, supports Colonel Boyd’s observation. This leads to the central dilemma of Fourth Generation war: what works for you on the physical (and sometimes mental) level often works against you at the moral level. It is therefore very easy to win all the tactical engagements in a Fourth Generation conflict yet still lose the war. To the degree you win at the physical level by utilizing firepower that  causes casualties and property damage to the local population, every physical victory may move you closer to moral defeat, and the moral level is decisive.

 Too much important to know.

7 Responses to Honor-Shame Pathologies and 4th Generation Warfare

  1. Rich Rostrom says:

    There is another area to address. Some people are nodes, who generate and propagate memes very powerfully. When trying to alter the toxic state of a culture, it is (IMO) necessary to find the nodes that are the sources or transmitters of toxic memes.

    I say this because jihadism, for instance, is complex behavior which has to be learned.

    The jihadist who carries out a suicide bombing was taught the beliefs and attitudes that led him to the act. His teachers in turn were taught by others, and those in turn by others, leading up to a relatively small number of high-influence leaders and teachers.

    A culture of this sort is to a great degree a free-floating cloud, but even so there are individuals who are more important in its propagation.

    There’s also the issue of physical resources for propagation – money especially. Here Saudi Arabia has much to answer for, as Saudi government money finances a lot of religious activities that are borderline jihadist, and Saudi private money goes further, I suspect.

    This sort of investigation is needed to discover how such activity arises. Who started Boko Haram, for instance? Who taught those men? Who paid for that teaching?

    Toxic culture is an infectious disease. And defeating infectious disease requires understanding its epidemiology.

    • Cynic says:

      ” The jihadist who carries out a suicide bombing was taught the beliefs and attitudes that led him to the act. ”

      But in several cases that occurred in Israel the bomber was forced into undertaking the act.
      A delivery system was needed, and in some cases peer pressure was brought to bear on some kid who was not popular, family honour in other cases and some having to pay back a “favour”.

  2. Doyle Quiggle says:

    I might add, you cannot understand honor-shame codes abstracted from their most primary context, which is the limbic system. Honor is neurologically compulsive to tribal members. Honor codes must first gain congruency with evolved, innate moral intuitions and pre-adaptations in order to become successful as social technologies for compelling group loyalty, reciprocal altruism, and so forth. Honor codes must achieve archetypal structuring among tribal members before they can become compulsive at the endocrinal level. And it is because honor-codes do trigger such powerful neuro-hormonal responses that they appear not to fit well into modern society, — IF by modern society we mean non-emotional, rational, cooly calculated. The honor ledger is calculated by what Kahneman calls system I of our brains. Honor is a form of blink think, which bypasses the frontal cortex and gains direct access to limbic structures. Honor-think exploits the whole cognitive suite of our threat-detection system.

    Moreover, honor-shame codes cannot be abstracted from their past economics of debt. Honor-shame tribes, even rival tribes, are mutually committed to a network of invisible loyalties to PAST debts. Born into an honor-shame society, you are born into and expected to negotiate a very complicated network of unpaid, unsettled debts. That debt ledger not only “extends infinitely, up through tribe vs. tribe, confederation vs. confederation, sect vs. sect (Sunni vs. Shiite), the Dar al-Islam vs Dar al-harb, Muslims vs. infidels.” That debt ledger extends BACKWARDS into the past.

    Loyalty must, in this regard, be broadly reconceived not only as loyalty to the tribe’s specific honor code, but as loyalty to the whole debt system that binds, perversely perhaps, together competing tribes, both in-groups and out-groups. ALL groups in the system (even those blood feuding) are enchanted by the SAME network of invisible loyalties. This is a kind of meta-loyalty, loyalty to the debt system of honor itself. From the perspective of raw debt collection and payment, honor systems are as rational as any calculus. However, “meta-loyalty” compels a FEELING, a compulsion, a hot emotional response to symbols, gestures, acts of DIS-honor in tribal groups. That feeling is shame. And true shame exploits the limbic system’s highly contagious nature to spread itself horizontally throughout the tribe. In this regard, honor-shame, as Cohen has argued, binds individual neural networks into one collective neural network or limbic unit. Symbols, whether transmitted through the internet or through local narratives and rituals, and their attendant magio-religious “logic,” perpetuate limbic synching.

    Honor codes may not fit well with modern society but they do an excellent job of exploiting the resources of modern society to perpetuate themselves. Are these codes “memes” or cultural attractors?

  3. Richard Landes says:

    it of course didn’t help that as the jihadis were trying out the memes, the “progressive left” was cheering them on.

  4. Philip Carl Salzman says:

    To my mind, you cannot understand the honour-shame code abstracted from its social context. It is part of tribal culture, and the organization of tribal life is based on balanced opposition between groups. Loyalty and sacrifice is supported by the honour-shame code. You say “Local morality is about what the community forbids and punishes through honor codes.” I agree. But the oppositional structure of tribal life extends infinitely, up through tribe vs. tribe, confederation vs. confederation, sect vs. sect (Sunni vs. Shiite), the Dar al-Islam vs Dar al-harb, Muslims vs. infidels. It is quite consistent and quite logical. It just does not fit very well with modern society.

  5. Richard Landes says:

    Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin tried to leave a comment (which may appear later). In the meantime, I’m posting this on her behalf:

    Several have commented that it is important to integrate into our thinking about shame honor – neuroscience and biology. I agree. I would like to raise the issue of the maternal attachment. Why?

    The female underpins the entire shame honor entities moving up from the family to the yamuna to the clan the tribe, etc. I also consider Islam a shame honor religion because of Sura 4 in particular and wife beating. I like Bouhdiba’s Sexuality in Islam – he really understands the effacement of the mother and by extension the female. As you all know the other is feminized. So this is the level where we probably need to begin because the devalued little girl who has been physically and mentally brutalized day in and day out in these cultures then becomes a mother at all too young an age. She is THE first cultural interpreter to the baby in the maternal attachment. Genetics and biology of course matter but the time in utero to age 2 is critical. That is when she is like Intel building the brain of the baby and also teaching the baby how to relate to objects – all types including people. The baby learns how to bond to others. The jihadis learned how to bond violently. Also it is well known that intelligence is sex-linked genetically to the mother. So the most precious baby should not be the male but the female – in their world everything is the reverse — what is good is bad and what is bad is good.

    Needs are toxic – this is beyond dirty. Think of the tragedy unfolding in Syria and the gas — poison toxic literally it is a concretization of a psychological state that has not been appropriately mastered. It is not permissible to get your needs met in appropriate ways in a shame honor culture/family/etc. Everything is scapegoated and projected. Furthermore you are not permitted to separate psychologically from your mother ever. This causes the inability to see the forest from the trees and think in a non-paranoid way.

    I agree with Richard we must figure out a way to interrupt this vicious cycle. Education and keeping at it.

    • Rich Rostrom says:

      Education (propagating non-toxic memes) is not (IMO) the primary answer to the toxic culture problem. What is needed is to identify the ways the toxic culture propagates.

      Mr. Quiggle’s comments above about the possible connection of neurological effects point to one area that must be examined. Professor Landes’ comments about the importance of maternal attachment and the unconscious, unspoken effects of the treatment and status of women points to another.

      Research in these areas must be pressed to identify the processes that propagate toxic culture. Then there must be efforts to disrupt the processes.

      These efforts need not be (and quite possibly should not be) programs to challenge the toxic culture directly. Explicitly teaching that its principles are wrong and its leaders are mistaken or evil will just bounce off. Rather, measures should be taken that disrupt or negate the propagation of toxic culture in indirect ways. I.e. don’t go around preaching that “Child Marriage is Bad”; find ways to make it unfashionable or an economic loss, without ever publicly saying anything about it.

      There are some techniques that could be applied now, which could be of value. It was reported a few years ago that only about 500 other-language books are published in Arabic translation each year. This is very small. One big effect is that Arabic-speakers have minimal exposure to the range of Western literature, and have distorted images of Western societies.

      This could be changed. Western governments, or even a big foundation, could subsidize the Arabic republication of lots of English and other language books. And not just “high culture”, but mass culture, going back to the 1800s – everything from detective mysteries to Westerns and romances. If this stuff gets read (and I think it would), it would flood Arab mindspace with different memes, disrupting the existing patterns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *