For some time John Robb has been writing a blog (soon to be a book, then a Major Motion Picture) called Global Guerillas.
In it he posits the idea of open source warfare, a global network of rebels united by technology and modern transportation, able to disrupt and destroy modern society.
Robb’s is a "post 9-11 mindset," a paranoia born of the spectacularly "lucky" (from the point of view of its planners) destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That date (which will live in infamy) transformed a small time terrorist named Osama Bin Laden into the Great Satan (the angel who challenged heaven and became master of hell). In Republican mythology it also transformed George W. Bush into the Archangel Michael, and the neo-conservative movement into the defenders of paradise.
Robb is constantly bringing readers earnest dispatches from the front in order to prove his case:
- Criminal gangs in Brazil threaten the stability of the government.
- Iraq, once the cradle of civilization, is becoming its grave despite our best efforts to halt it.
- Maoist Naxalite guerillas are threatening the government of India.
- Nigerian guerillas have seized virtual control of oil fields there. (Robb estimates that the Nigerians and Iraqi thieves are each bringing in $4.2 billion in oil revenue per year.)
- Mexican immigrants are increasingly sophisticated and undermining the U.S.
Robb’s thesis is these ethnic, political, and criminal groups are creating "virtual states" with the ability to destroy America and civilization.
Only two problems:
- Open source has nothing to do with it.
- His numbers just don’t add up.
Let’s take these one at a time.
1. Most of these groups are not communicating with one another. They are not using Linux. Their Internet "platforms" are minimal. Their success is based, always, on the perceived justice of their causes among affected groups. The real problem is that so many people feel they have no stake in the current arrangements of the modern world. Open source — as a software platform, economic model or anything else — has nothing to do with this.
The way to end this war is to give more people membership in the modern world. Victory, in other words, lies in the tools of open source. Open source is not the problem — it’s the solution.
2. I thought of doing a little chart, measuring the percentage of people needed for success in a guerilla action in the past against what is needed now.
On the left side of the chart we have both the percentage of Americans supporting the Revolution of 1776 (about a third) and the percentage who participated in the fighting (about 10% of that). This gives you what Washington had to work with. His martial reputation is based on what we’d now call guerilla tactics (Saratoga), surprise (Trenton) and a key ally (Yorktown). Nearly every other battle was lost. Merely by staying on the field, however, and having Franklin in Paris to cement the French alliance, the good guys won.
To the right you have Iraq, circa 2003. Again, about one-third of the people (the Sunnis) were supportive of the insurrection. Again, about one in 10 may be assumed to have been participants. As these numbers have risen (today most Iraqis want the U.S. out, and the number of fighters has increased in proportion), so America’s situation has become ever-more precarious.
The chart, in other words, shows a flat line.
What we’re seeing, then, is not new. Those without demand a share in what others have, at minimum the chance to earn one. When their political and economic systems fail to deliver answers, where negotiation is rejected, arms are taken up. The chances of disruption, and of victory, are based on the ability of the complainants to draw support. It is as it was in 1776.
It’s true that today our "weapons of mass destruction" can magnify the damage these groups can do. It is also true that our dependence on non-renewable resources for energy and economic production make us vulnerable to these kinds of revolts.
But the problem is not open source.
Open source is the answer.
Consensus, negotiation, good-faith offers of key code, these are the weapons that will win the struggle. But they have not yet been deployed.