Small Wars Journal

Afghanistanica on Abu Muqawama: A Response

Fri, 02/01/2008 - 9:13pm
I would like to respond to what appears to be Afghanistanica's (on Abu Muqawama) main premise supporting his critique of my paper titled "Strategic Design Considerations for Operations in Pakistan's Tribal Areas: Dust-up along the North-West Frontier."

His comment follows: "Trying to predict behavior through the lens of traditional community and Pashtunwali requires one to see cultures as static and unchanging. That is a recipe for failure."

I, of course have to respectfully disagree with a number of implicit assumptions embedded in the comment. Afghanistanica's implicit assumptions are revealed in the following words: "predict" i.e. predict behavior, "traditional" i.e. traditional community and Pashtunwali, "requires" i.e. requires one to see and "static and unchanging" i.e. to see culture as such and finally "failure".

The cultural operating codes and coordinating messages "lens" or social codes as expressed in Pashtunwali is not intended to predict in the sense I believe Afghanistanica understands the term. The cultural operating codes and coordinating messages model is intended as a framework to structure the analysis. What does this mean? The "lens" is a tool for us to recognize patterns not predict individual or group behavior. I take great pains not to advertise this model as a predictive tool in the sense that Afghanistanica's comments seem to imply. Afghanistanica and I differ because I accept intuitively that effects resulting from all individual and group interactions are "determined not simply by preceding causes but are part of a continuous process of evolution. These complex interactions are too numerous to predict, identify and observe as they manifest themselves in their various end states along the historical timeline." I do very much believe that our behavior is governed by intrinsic codes of behavior and not strictly by reason or rational design. The Ten Commandments would be an example. It doesn't really matter whether you are a Hebrew, Christian or Muslim; do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, or do not accuse anyone falsely are very effective codes of conduct to follow if you wish to live in a civilized community. In this example the emergence of complex behavior of the hundreds of thousands of individual decisions and actions taken daily based on these simple rules would logically create and shape the community in question. What is the difference between the Ten Commandments and Pashtunwali aside from the perception of primitiveness by those that might believe that rational thinking can create better and more appropriate rules of conduct to guide and maintain stability within a communal group? I just can't bring myself to imagine that someone in the distant past woke up one day and exclaimed that "tolerance" is a good thing. Then attempted to impose the idea of "tolerance" on others who wouldn't even know what the word meant. Our present-day western concept of tolerance, in my opinion, is the result of cultural evolution, lots of trial and error and associated bloodshed and there isn't an argument based on rational constructs of group behavior in existence today that has persuaded me so far to think otherwise. I apologize for my primitive outlook on the human condition and readily accept that my position might be anathema to those that embrace the idea that reason and rational thinking is the only mechanism to create a social order. I therefore want to strongly reinforce the point that the model is not an attempt to predict individual or group behavior but an attempt to recognize patterns of behavior and why this pattern may exist.

I do not seek to dwell on the merits of tradition. Suffice it to say that I believe that the age of reason has done much to influence our present attempts to marginalize and demean the role and function of tradition in cultural evolution. If I believed that rational thinking is the solution to all our ills, I too would do my best to discredit the concept. Implied derogatory words such as static come to mind.

On the other hand, I can't disagree more with the insinuation that the lens "requires" one to see culture as static. It is as if I was told that a given professional football game is static because the players follow a set of simple rules. The game remains the same but the actions expressed on any given game day certainly do not.

Lastly, I'll address failure. Different mental models provide differing lenses for how we perceive the world and many an unquestioned assumption cause us to respond reflexively in our own stylized forms of diplomacy as reflected in this exchange of ideas. The proof is in the pudding and in this case only time will tell whose mental model is more appropriate in the end.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I leave you with the following quote from Montaigne: "All I say is by way of discourse. I would not speak so boldly if it was my due to be believed."