11.25, Thursday 14 Jul 2005

One of my mum's dogs ran away at the weekend. That is: I have one mum; my mum has many dogs; one of them ran away at the weekend. It was traumatic, he was out for 2 nights, and finally - thanks to the jungle drums of the New Forest - he was found and we got him back.

He's run away before because he has bad eyes and is easily lost, and also because he gets out the gate (which closes automatically) or squeezes through a hedge and can't get back in.

My mum's solution is that we need better fences, and to get the people who come round to the house to be aware of the gate situation.

It won't work.

The problem with fences is that you only notice there's a hole when a dog goes through it and gets lost. The problem with getting people to be aware of the gate is that it only takes one person not to know, and the dog gets lost. These are solutions that are fragile--they're not robust to a mildly determined dog or to small error. What's more, the failure states are catastrophic. There's no near-miss: Either the dog is in the garden, or he's lost and you have to walk around in the dark shouting all weekend. there's no sign that something's going slightly wrong and you need to make fixes.

But because fencing and telling people is hard work, it looks grand and you feel like you're doing something.


Terrorism is a systemic response to asymmetric warfare. It is the enemy's stealth bomber [via Yoz].

We're fighting on two fronts - military and media - and we're fighting to express a whole chunk of the world on Western terms, and to feed them into our production lines of consumerism and industry. Some folks resist this vocally but relatively harmlessly (the French; the anti-globalisation crowd). Other folks make the only resistance possible: they change the terms of debate and move off the battlefield [via blackbeltjones].

The terrorist attacks are media and military as one, but break out of both and intrude on real life. They're not just media spectacle, they affect people. We think they're warfare, but they don't take responsibility and disappear for years at a time. They confound us.

There's no reason for these attacks, and they're not something we can fight against. They're systemic; they're responses to an imposed situation. The problem's with the dog, not the fences.


Monitoring email and ramping up security won't help. It'll cause an arms-race that'll make the responses more drastic. At least we're paying attention, as a society now, which means we're not fighting the media front quite so hard. We're at least trying to understand.

Our defence is the same defence that stopped people dumping chemicals into the Commons before Fathers 4 Justice, and has so far stopped people trying to bomb Parliament: The defence is making sure people don't want to do these things.

In this age of machines and computers, we don't like trusting that 50 million people (or more) are all steadily, every day, not wanting to do something. We want to have checks and guarantees. But that's our hubris: The secret is, the world gets on just as well without us. First we have to understand this secret, and second we need to work towards using it.

How? I'll tell you what step 1 should be. It should be to take responsibility for those who claim to speak for our society, and tell them we disagree. I'm thinking of the BNP here. It can't be a coincidence that the recent suicide bombers came from a region where the BNP are strong (although not the neighbourhood, I admit).

And I'm loathe to say "citizenship," but we need to people to know that everyone else cares what they do, and will chastise or help out as appropriate. And here I'm talking park keepers, school teachers, bus conductors. Give them more power, and the police less.


Two final thoughts:

  • This isn't a new problem. think of the wave of assassinations in the US around the time of Vietnam, and when the reshaping of society due to the Cold War was really kicking off. Why did it stop that time?
  • My mum's had previous dogs that didn't run away despite the gate being open continuously. We could spot them sneaking towards the gate and tell them off. Training was slow and continuous, and the failure modes weren't quite so bad. This current dog wasn't so trained.

These attacks will change us in one of two ways. We'll up the security until we live in a militarised police state, and we'll be safe but unfree. Or we'll become multi-headed, heterogeneous, leaderless, fluid, prone to compromise and internal misunderstandings but unlikely to be hated as an attackable block. Hey, like Europe.