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Old 10-10-2006   #1
Stu-6
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Default It's the Tribes (merged thread)

Quote:
Steven Pressfield
Forget the Koran. Forget the ayatollahs and the imams. If we want to understand the enemy we're fighting in Iraq, the magic word is "tribe." . . .
http://www.d-n-i.net/fcs/pressfield_tribes.htm
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Old 10-11-2006   #2
Tom Odom
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Default Tribes, Clans, and Blood

Good post and good read. I would say he is half right--it is tribal and it is also religious, although the Shia-Sunni divide is in many ways tribal in its origin, the Shia seeking succession via "blood" or tribal lines. In his defense, he does state this with the critical sentence
Quote:
"The enemy is tribalism articulated in terms of religion."
but he fails to follow up on the thought, which is really essential to understanding the AO.

The best sentence in this entire article is
Quote:
"you can't sell "freedom" to tribesmen any more than you can sell "democracy."
It's funny (sad funny not ha ha funny) that this same article could be titled It's the Clans, Stupid, dated Oct 1992 (3) and we could be discussing Somalia.

Best

Tom
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Old 10-11-2006   #3
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Default Well, maybe an "F+"....

What a mishmash of outdated ideas! Some of his "observations", if they can be called that, are pretty good - at least about how pastoralist tribes' honour systems operate. The rest is a rehash of some of the worst 19th century, armchair Anthropology.

Marc
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Old 10-11-2006   #4
Ray Levesque
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Default Analysis for tribes

If you haven't seen it yet you may want to take a look at a new book out this year:

Shultz, Richard H., and Andrea J. Dew, Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006, 316 pp.

The strength of this book is its attempt to lay out a framework for analyzing tribal-based insurgents, terrorists, and militias in layman's terms. It presents a methodology for militarily analyzing how and why tribal-based groups fight.

They recommend the following criteria as a substitute for traditional Military Capabilities Analysis: the tribe's concept of warfare; its organization and command and control; its areas of operations; the types and targets of its operations; its constraints and limitations; and the role of outside actors. The authors make their argument by first discussing the differences between the western way of war and "primitive warfare," and then assessing the way wars have evolved since the end of the cold war.

It's a pretty good food for thought book.

Ray
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Old 10-11-2006   #5
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Default

Thanks for posting this, Ray. It sounds like they are updating the old Ft. Bragg military-culture briefings.

Marc
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Old 10-11-2006   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marct View Post
What a mishmash of outdated ideas! Some of his "observations", if they can be called that, are pretty good - at least about how pastoralist tribes' honour systems operate. The rest is a rehash of some of the worst 19th century, armchair Anthropology.

Marc
I agree. This looks like one of those "one stop solution" things that has been simplified to the point that it has no real value but can beguile many into believing that it has value. Perhaps that's what happens when someone who's predominantly a novelist takes a crack at major anthro-type writing.
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Old 10-11-2006   #7
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I agree. This looks like one of those "one stop solution" things that has been simplified to the point that it has no real value but can beguile many into believing that it has value. Perhaps that's what happens when someone who's predominantly a novelist takes a crack at major anthro-type writing.
LOLOL Too true!

What really got me was two things:
  1. he is using "tribe" as if there is only one type of tribe and "they are all the same" (which is a crock);
  2. his entire rant is based on the old, 19th century unilinear evolutionary argument for cultures (analogically similar to that AF article we have been talking about elsewhere).

Back in 1968, Marshall Sahlins wrote a little primer of tribes called, appropriately enough, Tribesman (Foundations of Modern Anthropology, Prentice-Hall). In it he identifies 7 different major types of "tribes", and we are pretty sure now that there are or have been more. I'd actually recomend it since you can usually find it in a second hand shop for a couple of bucks.

Sahlins also wrote what is probably the best analysis of how tribes hang together. It's mainly an argument out of economic anthropology (and somewhat complex), but brilliant: Stone Age Economics. When you tie it in with Marcel Mauss' argument in The Gift (which Amazon is offering as a bundle), you get a really good feel for the structural dynamics.

Marc
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Old 10-11-2006   #8
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Default Simple is not always without value

I hear ya guys.

But I would also say that even if his ideas as Marc points out are outdated 19th century mishmash, certain points that he makes are valid and are not completely without value, those being on exporting ideas on freedom amd democracy and freedom (as if those are necessarily the same). The same holds true with points on different mental frameworks.

Finally I would point out that in offering what is a simplified (grossly) view of a complex subject, he does offer a counterview to equally (and grossly) simplified view of the world that has gained a great following among those seeking such views. If someone who believes that an Iraqi's (or Afghan's) view of freedom (or democracy) is the same as an American reads this little piece and at least pauses to think for 15 seconds, the author has done that reader a service.

Best


Tom

Last edited by Tom Odom; 10-12-2006 at 07:47 PM.
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Old 10-11-2006   #9
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Default Welcome back :)

Hi Tom,

I hope the fishing was good!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
But I would also say that even if his ideas as Marc points out are outdated 19th century mishmash, certain points that he makes are valid and are not completely without value, those being on exporting ideas on freedom amd democracy and freedom (as if those are necessarily the same). The same holds true with pints on different metla frameworks.
Oh, I have no difficulty with that part of what he said . Afterall, "freedom" may just mean the freedom to carry out a longstanding feud without some twit intervening.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
Finally I would point out that in offering what is a simplified (grossly) view of a complex subject, he does offer a counterview to equally (and grossly) simplified view of the world that has gained a great following among those seeking such views. If someone who believes that an Iraqi's (or Afghan's) view of freedom (or democracy) is the same as an American reads this little piece and at least pauses to think for 15 seconds, the author has done that reader a service.
You know, most of the time I would agree with you on that. I think the reason I don't in the current piece is that the 15 second reader is also likely to pick up on terms such as "savage", "primitive" and "crazy". What really bugs me is that he is constructing tribesmen as "unknowable" and setting "them" up in permanent opposition to "us". I'm just waiting for the "Axis of Savagery" comments to start appearing...

Marc
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Old 10-11-2006   #10
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Default No fishing but Bambi escaped...this time

Quote:
Originally Posted by marct View Post
You know, most of the time I would agree with you on that. I think the reason I don't in the current piece is that the 15 second reader is also likely to pick up on terms such as "savage", "primitive" and "crazy". What really bugs me is that he is constructing tribesmen as "unknowable" and setting "them" up in permanent opposition to "us". I'm just waiting for the "Axis of Savagery" comments to start appearing...

Marc

Oh I know and I understand your concerns; simplicity holds those risks whoever is using it for whatever point they are trying to make.

no fishing. just hunting Bambi. early season though and I still hope to have venison in the freezer before too long. it's that "savage" side of me

best

Tom
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Old 10-11-2006   #11
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Oh I know and I understand your concerns; simplicity holds those risks whoever is using it for whatever point they are trying to make.
True, I just wish that he wasn't so - oooh what's the word I'm looking for? Hmm - "stupid" just about covers it <wry grin>. Seriously, thought, he could have made the same general pints and then proceeded to show just how Alexander won the Afghan tribes over to him. He was also confusing the magazine states of Sumeria (modern souther Iraq) with the tribal groups. Now, if he had talked about the Sogdians....

Quote:
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no fishing. just hunting Bambi. early season though and I still hope to have venison in the freezer before too long. it's that "savage" side of me
Hey, roast loin of Bambi is one of my favorite meals! Nothin' "savage" about it - just, hmm, how do my eco-friendly friends put it? Oh, yeah - just an "appropriate and ecologically sound use of resources" 'sides that, ever since my wife got forced off the road by one of them, I've been enaged in a feud with the species (hey, not a "tribal" one!!!! Perish the thought - just good old highland Scot's "inter-familial rivalry").

Now there's a thought - "how to win [triball] friends and influence people with a little shared hunting"! Love it!

Marc
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Old 10-11-2006   #12
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My question for those who would find fault with this piece’s over simplification is do you know of a better work on the subject of a similar length? Obviously complex ideas have been simplified but if they weren’t any discussion of the effects of tribalism on the current conflict would be hundreds of pages in length.
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Old 10-11-2006   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stu-6 View Post
My question for those who would find fault with this piece’s over simplification is do you know of a better work on the subject of a similar length? Obviously complex ideas have been simplified but if they weren’t any discussion of the effects of tribalism on the current conflict would be hundreds of pages in length.
Hi Stu,

Well, the Sahlins book Tribesmen is pretty short and there is another in the same series call Pastoralists that would also work. You could read either one of them in a couple of hours with a six-pack .

I do agree that complex ideas need to be simplified depending on the audience, but there is a real difference between simplification and drek. Probably the best model of what I think would work for most people involvced in Afghanistan and/or Iraq would be something similar to the old quicky ethnographies produced by the US Army Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg. I believe there was an even simpler version produced for the various Pacific Islander groups during WWII in comic book form, but I've never seen any of them.

Marc
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Old 10-11-2006   #14
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Default From an earlier thread

http://www.comw.org/warreport/fulltext/03alexander.pdf
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Old 10-11-2006   #15
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Originally Posted by Stu-6 View Post
My question for those who would find fault with this piece’s over simplification is do you know of a better work on the subject of a similar length? Obviously complex ideas have been simplified but if they weren’t any discussion of the effects of tribalism on the current conflict would be hundreds of pages in length.
Well, not a "similar length", but certainly not hundreds of pages either...

The article jcustis posted the link to is well worth the read, as is this other material...

Earlier SWC threads:

Wars Less About Ideas Than Extreme Tribalism

An Adaptive Insurgency: Confronting Adversary Networks in Iraq

3rd Generation Gangs and the Iraqi Insurgency

SSI: Tribal Alliances: Ways, Means, and Ends to Successful Strategy

USIP: Who Are the Insurgents? Sunni Arab Rebels in Iraq

Blog Excerpts: Iraq's tribal society: A state within a state , 4 parts
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Old 10-11-2006   #16
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Hi Stu,

Well, the Sahlins book Tribesmen is pretty short and there is another in the same series call Pastoralists that would also work. You could read either one of them in a couple of hours with a six-pack .
Well Amazon had a copy of Tribesman for $1.95 so it is on order,the six-pack is chilling in the fridge.
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Old 10-12-2006   #17
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Well Amazon had a copy of Tribesman for $1.95 so it is on order,the six-pack is chilling in the fridge.
Great! I've often found that academic material goes down better with a beer (or 6!).

Marc
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Old 10-13-2006   #18
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Great! I've often found that academic material goes down better with a beer (or 6!).

Marc
Usually more if you're actually talking with said academic while reading his or her material....
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Old 10-13-2006   #19
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Default Alcohol, Anthropology and academic culture

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Usually more if you're actually talking with said academic while reading his or her material....
Geeze! You're not THAT masochistic, are you Steve?

Actually, I've found that talking with academics about their work becomes a lot more comprehensible with almost any alcohol <wry grin>. I've noticed that moderately decent Hungarian Red works very well for complex Anthropology theory.... especially at 3am discussion fests

On a slightly more serious note, I noticed years ago that academic Anthropology had a very weird culture, especially at conferences. It took me a bit of time to realize it, but it turns out that there is a "split" between how Anthropology is taught and written about, and how you "really" learn it. The "real stuff" (the official theoretical term is "tribal gnosis" for anyone who collects useless trivia) comes out in small groups telling stories. I suspect that everyone here already knows that, at least about their own disciplines .

What I found interesting about the Anthro tribal stories was the content, Most of the time, the stories were about people whose work I was reading and, sometimes, they were the ones telling the stories. Sometimes funny, sometimes silly, many times frustrated with how we have to write in order to get published, the stories were always enlightening and, frequently, contradicted everything in the "official" line.

Marc
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Old 10-13-2006   #20
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We tend to see the same thing in history, although with history it's more like a gathering of competing tribes - each with their own unique rituals (otherwise known as "schools" or "specialties"). I'm a military history type, so I often end up at odds with some of the social history types - mainly because most I have met are convinced you have to be a warmonger to study military history. In the end it often comes down to obscure debates about value and bashing of political scientists...
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