SWOT Analysis of Boston Marathon Bombing

Negative items (weaknesses and threats) first.

Overconcentration of political belief systems by geography and especially by vocation, notably in journalism; the corresponding threat is misdiagnosis of motivation and identity of perpetrators.
This was on full display over the past week, and although the most prominent examples were instances of the amazingly robust narrative about a supposed right-wing fundamentalist Christian underground, the persistence of which reveals a great deal about the mindset of the “liberal” bien-pensant, they’re not the only ones who have this problem. Claiming that people in Boston are cowering under their beds and wishing they had AR-15s, or casually accusing various (and singularly unimpressive) American politicians of being Communists, isn’t much better than fantasizing about entirely nonexistent WASP terrorists. And there has already been at least one wild-goose chase in recent years, the nationwide Federal investigation to find the co-conspirators of Scott Roeder in the assassination of George Tiller. He didn’t have any, and was known very early on to have acted alone. Your tax dollars nonetheless went to work; see also “memetic parasitism,” below.

Public susceptibility to emotional paralysis in response to reportage of events; the corresponding threat is deliberate induction of such paralysis by an opponent attempting to cause long-term economic and/or military weakness.
We seem unpleasantly vulnerable to becoming transfixed, tens of millions at a time, by the words and especially images of a Ballardian ontology of violence and disaster: explosions, crashes, smoldering wreckage, fleeing spectators, hideously maimed victims, and swarms of first responders. God knows there are perfectly good evolutionary-psychological reasons for this, but with modern communication technologies, not only a city but the work of an entire country can slow to a crawl for hours or even days as a result.
A sufficiently cunning enemy may be able to deliberately exploit this phenomenon. It was a plot device in Oliver Lange’s alternate-history SF novel Vandenberg, in which a Soviet invasion of the US in the early 1970s succeeds largely by planting news bulletins in such a way as to shock the American populace into complete passivity, an emotional state of waiting for orders from above. The difference, of course, is that the Soviets wanted our wealth relatively intact; as defector Arkady Shevchenko once remarked, they were predatory, but they were not insane. An enemy who merely wishes to weaken us economically irrespective of other consequences could play a much longer game. The gross metropolitan area product of Boston is well over $300 billion per year, so the cost of last week’s events seems likely to have reached ten figures, even if it only represented one full day of lost productivity. Should this become a selling point among jihadists, very tough times are ahead.
Of course, a closely related phenomenon was the official reaction of placing several entire municipalities on a kind of lockdown for many hours of patrolling by armored vehicles and heavily-armed police and Federal agents. The direct cost of such an operation aside, the daily routines of something on the order of a million people were significantly disrupted by the actions of a single-digit (and probably a low single-digit) number of perpetrators. Note the nonlinearity.

Memetic parasitism – conspiracy theorizing, “critical race theory,” advocacy of opportunistic legislation; the corresponding threats are fifth-column activity in support of terrorists and diversion of public resources to pork-barrel projects and/or ineffectual agencies and programs (which has many of the practical effects of fifth-column activity).
These people should be publicly mocked on every possible occasion. If you are – to name the first few examples that come to mind – a Birther, a Truther, a fashionably postmodernist academic, or (rare as these must be) a supporter of the TSA, you are a parasite, and I deeply regret that my tax dollars are helping protect your life, liberty, and pursuit of (twisted) happiness. As was often the case, Heinlein nailed it: “… why are the people of the United States and their government always the villains in the eyes of the revisionists? Why can’t our enemies – such as the king of Spain, and the kaiser, and Hitler, and Geronimo, and Villa, and Sandino, and Mao Tse-Tung, and Jefferson Davis – why can’t these each take a turn in the pillory? Why is it always our turn?” (from chapter 5 of To Sail Beyond the Sunset)
At some point, we have to recognize that “the revisionists” are simply on the other side.

Absence of survivors of last “secular crisis” (Depression/WW2); the youngest members of the Silent Generation are over 70. Baby boomers, in particular – of whom I am one – display a remarkable readiness to believe the worst about their fellow citizens. And the alignment of generational temperaments in the early portion of a crisis era (per Strauss & Howe, this one will reach a crescendo around 2020) has a way of ensuring that pretty much every development, even otherwise positive ones, helps foment the “secular crisis.”
So the disabling of a horrendously cruel regime in Iran that has sponsored terrorism in several other countries will merely clear the way for Saudi-inspired terrorists to slaughter innocents in far greater numbers all over the world. Greatly improved extraction technologies leading to an order-of-magnitude drop in the price of natural gas will make petrochemicals and plastics far cheaper and enable massive conversion of gasoline-burning engines to CNG – and fill the streets of the Arabian Peninsula with the unemployed. Ubiquitous Arduino-controlled quadcopters will make fun toys for every kid in the neighborhood, until somebody starts putting them through the windshields of semis on the highways. Made-to-order DNA looks to be great for drug delivery, but soon you can order up a batch of variola major virus and have it mailed to you.

OK, that will do. Time to accentuate the positive (strengths and opportunities). The above list wasn’t exhaustive, I’m sure, but this one isn’t either. No polity in human history has had greater assets than the United States in the early 21st century. I am deliberately sketching these at a high level and encourage commenters to both fill in details and nominate more items.

Heterogeneity at many scales. The red/blue, right/left divide is only the lowest-resolution rendering, and thereby a deeply misleading one – adopting the political terminology of the French Revolution was never all that good an idea, anyway. For significantly greater detail, even though the number of subcultures only increases from two to four, see Albion’s Seed. For temperament patterns by era of birth, see Generations. Progressive elaboration of vocations and avocations has created a vast number of specialties with immense potential for constructive repurposing of techniques. This sets the stage for …

Networked, spontaneous self-organization; to quote myself, “‘mobilization’ in the 21st century should not be confused with that of the early- and mid-20th; we now have An Army of Davids and ought to think creatively when calling upon the resources and expertise of 300 million Americans. See Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter: From Doobie Brother To Top Missile Defense Adviser for an apparently unusual example that could undoubtedly be multiplied with a bit of foresight and the employment of suitable means of communication, which are already available.”

Wealth – not to overlook the obvious, a $15 trillion GDP ought to be good for something. If nothing else, “be assured, my young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” (Adam Smith)

Israel, by way of also not overlooking the obvious, may be thought of as a kind of testbed for how to survive these kinds of attacks – and how to survive them with our values intact.

So next time, when you see the news, watch or read or listen for just long enough to get the basics, pray if you are the praying sort, then head-down on that code fix or schedule update or machine tool or package delivery or status report or patient or student. The bad guys want you distracted, but you want to win.

“You’ll be smarter than they are. You can whip them.” – Larry Niven, Protector

11 thoughts on “SWOT Analysis of Boston Marathon Bombing”

  1. “adopting the political terminology of the French Revolution was never all that good an idea”

    You mean the Mountain and the Plain ? That didn’t work out well, especially for the Girondists who were the Whigs of the French Republic.

  2. 1.

    “Public susceptibility to emotional paralysis in response to reportage of events; the corresponding threat is deliberate induction of such paralysis by an opponent attempting to cause long-term economic and/or military weakness.
    We seem unpleasantly vulnerable to becoming transfixed, tens of millions at a time, by the words and especially images of a Ballardian ontology of violence and disaster: explosions, crashes, smoldering wreckage, fleeing spectators, hideously maimed victims, and swarms of first responders.”

    This hits the nail right on the head. The irony of this is that the natural response of Americans (or any human community) is the opposite of this – banding together, taking action, feeling empathy and trust for those they would not otherwise, and spontaneous organization designed to weather events. Disaster psychology and sociology show time and time again that panic and paralysis are not the natural response to disaster. (See this post for a brief summary of these things, about 3 paragraphs down from the list). Rather, these are the common responses of governing elites. Elites are the ones who feel most “out of control” during disaster scenarios and often overreact when their feeling of control is threatened. 24 hour mass media allows elites the opportunity to channel their insecurities to the rest of American society. Our acceptance of government responses entirely out of proportion with the attack are a natural reaction to this.

    2. Great Britain and India are also good examples to look to. As I remarked over at my place:

    Acts of terrorism are different from normal homicides, and they should not be treated as such. Justice must be mete out. But the fearful and extreme response of the American government and her people are disgraceful, fit for a nation of sheep, not citizens. Again, I implore my fellow countrymen to see things in proper perspective. India and Great Britain have shown how great power democracies can weather protracted terrorist campaigns without curtailing civil liberties or searching homes with armed heavily troops. Between 1970 and 1999 the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated over forty bombs in the city of London alone. Since 2000 Islamic terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Indian Mujahadeen have staged more than 30 different attacks in India since the 1990s. The most recent, a motorcycle bombing in Bangalore, happened two days ago. Great Britain survived the IRA. India thrives despite her home-grown Jihadists. Neither nation resorted to urban lock downs or paramilitary man hunts to do so.

  3. I don’t like saying it but it is pitiful that one person with a firearm can can bring a city like Boston to a literal standstill. The bad guys won here. The media and folks are spinning “Boston Courage” but, with all due respect, “victims” are not “heroes”. Closing business and government offices and staying in one’s home may make people safe but it doesn’t make them courageous. Not everybody is brave but the past few days have made the people of Boston appear, to some extent, weak and fearful.

    Imagine that there was a large group, instead of two, dedicated terrorists. Massachusetts strict gun laws would not help.

  4. To the point. A well armed populace is a huge deterrent to foreign invasion. Look at our reason for dropping nuclear bombs on Japan. Switzerland. America. Only the extremely foolhardy would attempt a land invasion of a country where there is gun in every house and the willingness to use it. What was that about “a militia”? Sigh; the arguments about guns have many facets, and few people are willing to address all of them. Guns in the hood are different from guns for hunting are different from guns for national defense are different from defense from tyranny are different from guns held by crazy or moronic (to use an old term) people. Unreason rules the nation.

  5. Switzerland has figured out what it takes to defend a small nation. Israel has figured out that a wall between them and the terrorist bombers will help. We have the hubris of a great nation without the will to defend ourselves. We once did but the ideology of multiculti and the self hatred of the left have disarmed us. Illegal immigrants, with who knows how many terrorists, stream across our southern border. Australia, New Zealand and Canada all require financial responsibility of immigrants. We do not and get a stream of illiterate peasants whose only asset is the anticipation they will vote for Democrats. Britain has done the same thing and the middle class of Britain streams over to France to retire in villages abandoned by the French as they contract their native population and fill cities with Muslim immigrants.

  6. Is the flow irreversible? Is the damage done? Will the flows result in a new culturally stable nation (I think of the worries Ben Franklin had about the inflow of all those Germans), albeit one much different than before? Or should we be eyeing up potential countries to escape to (a la Switzerland, but holy expensive to get live there!).

    The interesting side note on Switzerland is that yes, they all do military service, and everyone keeps their gun – but there are inspections of the guns and ammo [previously], although now the ammo is centrally stored (in an armory, imagine that!) – reason being to cut down on its use for suicide. I guess the Swiss are less worried about home grown tyranny.

    Interesting reading to see how the Swiss do it, at least, according to the Good Book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Switzerland. Not to say that any of these would be the right thing culturally speaking for the US of A, just that its interesting to note what works and consider why.

  7. @Tyouth I believe Carl from Chicago is preparing a post along these lines. It is my opinion that if this chase happened in Texas for instance that these guys would have been met with a wall of lead well before the boat deal.

  8. While we’ve all read and heard unconfirmed anecdotal reports of bad guys from terrorist groups sneaking in from Mexico, the fact is all the attacks on us have been committed by people who have come in the front door. The Boston bombers were kids when they came over and their father was a skilled mechanic. No immigration policy short of banning all Muslims or all refugees from war zones would have stopped them.

    T. Greer, I saw your recent post about drone warfare and its terrorizing effects. It looks to me that instead of it being seen as an extension of limited war, it is instead a step towards total war. The limited war policies of the past decade haven’t brought a satisfactory conclusion to the Islamic Wars, so this is the next logical phase.

    The complicit nature of Bostonians to the brief martial law is perhaps further evidence of the shift. This might be the beginning of Strauss and Howe’s hero generation final decisive conflict.

  9. }}} Public susceptibility to emotional paralysis in response to reportage of events

    This is because 24/7 TV News has become, essentially, the telephone of the early 21st Century. Just as, when the phone rings, someone has to answer it, so, too, when there is a Big Official News Event, everyone has to watch.

    WTF? For God’s sake, WHY?

    Practice NOT answering the phone. It gets easier after a dozen times. People should have gotten used to this with answering machines, but somehow they picked it right back up when they got cell phones. YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER.

    Ditto the media. Is the story relevant to YOU in your daily routine? If you didn’t LIVE in Boston, have a close RELATIVE in Boston, and weren’t travelling TO Boston, then once every six freaking hours for 15-20 minutes is ALL YOU NEEDED. Why the #$%#^ do people think they need to know what is happening NOW NOW NOW. This just feeds the idiot journo need for attention getting. So, when there’s no new news, they make shit up. Like the stupid BITCH on NPR who outright claimed it was a right-wing extremist (Other networks did so, too. But she was the first one I heard of who put money on the table like an idiot).

    “We were only speculating….” Yeah. Right. F YOU NPR.

    IF you feel you MUST do that, then let’s go with the much more blatantly likely scenario — that it was Islamic in origin until evidence suggested otherwise.

    “Oh, no, we can’t tar Islam with such a broad brush!!”

    I repeat: F YOU NPR

    No, take your arm off the feedline. You don’t need this endless drip-drip-drip of useless BS-filled excuse for news.

    Modern News is a textbook example of Sturgeon’s Revelation: “90% of EVERYTHING is CRUD.”

    For anyone who watched this stupid thing unfold, who did not live within 100 miles of Boston, ask yourself: WTF did I get for all that time spent paying attention? What Opportunity Costs did that attention cost me? What could I have done with a day or more of my time back?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not demeaning it. But most stuff like this has little long term consequences for 90% and more of the nation. And rarely does anything happen that anyone needs to know Right This Minute, unless you’re an investment analyst or portfolio manager.

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