“pshe-pshe” and misunder- standing afghanistan

here’s a really interesting looking new book!:

An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict

“Mike Martin’s oral history of Helmand underscores the absolute imperative of understanding the highly local, personal, and non-ideological nature of internal conflict in much of the ‘third’ world.

“‘An Intimate War’ tells the story of the last thirty-four years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In the West, this period is often defined through different lenses — the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.

“This book — based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pashto — offers a very different view of Helmand from those in the media. It demonstrates how outsiders have most often misunderstood the ongoing struggle in Helmand and how, in doing so, they have exacerbated the conflict, perpetuated it and made it more violent — precisely the opposite of what was intended when their interventions were launched.”

from an article by martin in today’s telegraph:

“Britain didn’t understand the enemy in Helmand”

“I would argue that our performance – in terms of achieving our objectives – has been very poor. In the case of Afghanistan, and specifically Helmand Province, where the majority of our forces have been based, we have failed to understand the Helmandis. We have also failed to understand their culture, their history and their motivations.

“Most importantly, we have singularly failed to understand the Helmandi conflict. And to paraphrase Clausewitz, the most important thing to do in war is understand what type of war you are fighting. Many non-Helmandis view the violence through the narrative adopted by the international community. According to the ‘insurgency narrative’ widely espoused by Western governments, a legitimate Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), which is recognised and supported by the international community, is violently opposed by a movement of insurgents, called the Taliban, who have sanctuary in Quetta, Pakistan.

“Thus, the Taliban are religiously inspired insurgents who are opposed to the democratic and women’s rights that the GIRoA embodies and promotes. But this ‘insurgency narrative’ does not fit with my experiences as an officer. I went to Helmand several times (in and out of uniform), with appropriate gaps between visits for study and reflection, and this analysis seemed further and further from the events that I was observing and participating in. In my view, the Taliban are not the main drivers of conflict; and earlier periods, including the Soviet, the civil war and the Taliban eras, have been similarly misconstrued.

“Today, much of the violence is mischaracterised as ‘Taliban’ insurgent violence, when in fact it is not linked to the Taliban or the GIRoA, but is driven by local dynamics between groups and individuals on the ground. The Helmandis describe the conflict as *pshe-pshe*. This literally translates as ‘leg-leg’, but refers to the different legs of a tribe or clan (the English term would be ‘branch’). So, metaphorically, the phrase *pshe-pshe* means group-on-group warfare. It is a (micro) civil war….

“Currently, our ideas are largely based upon Maoist descriptions of insurgency; they highlight the importance of ideologies and organisation to motivate insurgents. The Army definition of an insurgency is ‘an organised, violent subversion used to effect or prevent political control, as a challenge to established authority’; it was from this that the ‘insurgency narrative’ was drawn.

“But this is not what took place in Helmand. The US and Britain were imposing a view of the war that bore little resemblance to the local understanding. The clearest example was the British ignoring Helmandis’ historical hatred (and related feelings of revenge) for them because it did not fit their understanding of the official narratives of the war. At the risk of over-quoting from the great Prussian master, they were trying to turn the war into something that it was not.

“These examples underscore the importance, when intervening in an internal war, of understanding the local politics – its actors, groups, narratives, feuds and alliances….”

from another article on sky news:

He [martin] catalogues in microscopic detail how first US Special Forces and then British troops were constantly manipulated by their Afghan allies into fighting on their side as part of local feuds and criminal enterprises that were only very dimly related to the ideology of being pro-government or pro-Taliban.

“Indeed, according to Dr Martin’s research, the two were often labels adopted by factions and warlords in need of material support from either the Nato forces or the Taliban.

Early allies of Nato, ahead of the British deployment, were warlords who stole vast tracts of lands from other clans and tribes and then used their alliance with US commandos as a military lever.

“‘The foreigners must like the *topak salaran* (warlords),’ Dr Martin quotes a local as saying.

“In 2008, while researching Desperate Glory, it was abundantly clear that British intelligence officers had only the sketchiest notion of who the ‘enemy’ in Helmand was.

“They did not appreciate the difference between long bloody engagements fought in the heart of the drug processing villages with the sudden evaporation of Taliban fighters in the face of large numbers of British troops.

“Nor that there was no inconsistency between being pro-government and pro-Taliban on any given day for a militia commander.

“Trucking contractors charged extra for ‘security’ and would then arrange for their convoys to be attacked.

“Drug barons, very often Afghan police, would contract Taliban militia to deliver their goods to market in government-held areas while Afghan troops were conducting anti-narcotics operations against their rivals.

“That is the way in Helmand – a rich agricultural landscape which has been riven by decades of conflict in which survival is the only form of victory.

“The buying of intelligence on alleged members of the Taliban by US forces meant a market developed in denunciations.

“Dr Martin wrote: ‘I repeatedly explored the issue of faulty intelligence driven by feuds and vendettas in 2011 and 2012.

“‘The attitude of those involved is perhaps best summed up by one of the more prominent militia commanders, who was still working with US Special Forces in 2012, when I asked him if there were still any feuds left over by the false targeting of the early days “All those sorts of problems are solved now”, he said, laughing, “they (the people we targeted) are all dead.”‘

“‘He said he could not work out why the United States was “so stupid”.'”

military intelligence, eh? =/

perhaps not surprisingly the british military has tried to stop the publication of martin’s book. he’s had to resign his commission in order to have it published.

previously: consanguineous marriage in afghanistan and kandahar vs. levittown

(note: comments do not require an email. helmand.)


us and them

the recent events in ukraine reminded me to remind you guys that, if you’ve never read it, you should read jerry z. muller‘s terrific 2008 piece for Foreign Affairs – “Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism” [pdf here]. it’s worth rereading periodically, too, since it’s so gosh durned excellent!:

“A familiar and influential narrative of twentieth-century European history argues that nationalism twice led to war, in 1914 and then again in 1939. Thereafter, the story goes, Europeans concluded that nationalism was a danger and gradually abandoned it. In the postwar decades, western Europeans enmeshed themselves in a web of transnational institutions, culminating in the European Union (EU). After the fall of the Soviet empire, that transnational framework spread eastward to encompass most of the continent. Europeans entered a postnational era, which was not only a good thing in itself but also a model for other regions. Nationalism, in this view, had been a tragic detour on the road to a peaceful liberal democratic order.

“[A] survey would show that whereas in 1900 there were many states in Europe without a single overwhelmingly dominant nationality, by 2007 there were only two, and one of those, Belgium, was close to breaking up. Aside from Switzerland, in other words — where the domestic ethnic balance of power is protected by strict citizenship laws — in Europe the ‘separatist project’ has not so much vanished as triumphed.

Far from having been superannuated in 1945, in many respects ethnonationalism was at its apogee in the years immediately after World War II. European stability during the Cold War era was in fact due partly to the widespread fulfillment of the ethnonationalist project. And since the end of the Cold War, ethnonationalism has continued to reshape European borders….

“Nineteenth-century liberals, like many proponents of globalization today, believed that the spread of international commerce would lead people to recognize the mutual benefits that could come from peace and trade, both within polities and between them. Socialists agreed, although they believed that harmony would come only after the arrival of socialism. Yet that was not the course that twentieth-century history was destined to follow. The process of ‘making the state and the nation commensurate’ took a variety of forms, from voluntary emigration (often motivated by governmental discrimination against minority ethnicities) to forced deportation (also known as ‘population transfer’) to genocide. Although the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ has come into English usage only recently, its verbal correlates in Czech, French, German, and Polish go back much further. Much of the history of twentieth-century Europe, in fact, has been a painful, drawn-out process of ethnic disaggregation.

“Massive ethnic disaggregation began on Europe’s frontiers. In the ethnically mixed Balkans, wars to expand the nation-states of Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia at the expense of the ailing Ottoman Empire were accompanied by ferocious interethnic violence. During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, almost half a million people left their traditional homelands, either voluntarily or by force. Muslims left regions under the control of Bulgarians, Greeks, and Serbs; Bulgarians abandoned Greek-controlled areas of Macedonia; Greeks fled from regions of Macedonia ceded to Bulgaria and Serbia.

“World War I led to the demise of the three great turn-of-the-century empires, unleashing an explosion of ethnonationalism in the process. In the Ottoman Empire, mass deportations and murder during the war took the lives of a million members of the local Armenian minority in an early attempt at ethnic cleansing, if not genocide. In 1919, the Greek government invaded the area that would become Turkey, seeking to carve out a ‘greater Greece’ stretching all the way to Constantinople. Meeting with initial success, the Greek forces looted and burned villages in an effort to drive out the region’s ethnic Turks. But Turkish forces eventually regrouped and pushed the Greek army back, engaging in their own ethnic cleansing against local Greeks along the way. Then the process of population transfers was formalized in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne: all ethnic Greeks were to go to Greece, all Greek Muslims to Turkey. In the end, Turkey expelled almost 1.5 million people, and Greece expelled almost 400,000.”

et cetera, et cetera….

“Analysts of ethnic disaggregation typically focus on its destructive effects, which is understandable given the direct human suffering it has often entailed. But such attitudes can yield a distorted perspective by overlooking the less obvious costs and also the important benefits that ethnic separation has brought….

“But if ethnonationalism has frequently led to tension and conflict, it has also proved to be a source of cohesion and stability. When French textbooks began with ‘Our ancestors the Gauls’ or when Churchill spoke to wartime audiences of ‘this island race,’ they appealed to ethnonationalist sensibilities as a source of mutual trust and sacrifice. Liberal democracy and ethnic homogeneity are not only compatible; they can be complementary.

One could argue that Europe has been so harmonious since World War II not because of the failure of ethnic nationalism but because of its success, which removed some of the greatest sources of conflict both within and between countries. The fact that ethnic and state boundaries now largely coincide has meant that there are fewer disputes over borders or expatriate communities, leading to the most stable territorial configuration in European history.

“These ethnically homogeneous polities have displayed a great deal of internal solidarity, moreover, facilitating government programs, including domestic transfer payments, of various kinds. When the Swedish Social Democrats were developing plans for Europe’s most extensive welfare state during the interwar period, the political scientist Sheri Berman has noted, they conceived of and sold them as the construction of a folkhemmet, or ‘people’s home.’

“Several decades of life in consolidated, ethnically homogeneous states may even have worked to sap ethnonationalism’s own emotional power. Many Europeans are now prepared, and even eager, to participate in transnational frameworks such as the EU, in part because their perceived need for collective self-determination has largely been satisfied…..”

read the whole thing!

(note: comments do not require an email. us and them.)

misdreavus on human biodiversity

if you’re not on twitter, and even if you are, you may have missed this. in response to social anthropologist a.j. west’s post ‘HBD’, misdreavus has pretty much completely — and valiantly! — explained ALL of the whys and wherefores of human biodiversity in just six short paragraphs.

if you’re on twitter and not following misdreavus, you should be! and if you’re not on twitter, you should get on twitter JUST to follow misdreavus! (^_^)

his comments @west’s blog start here. i’ve only cut-and-pasted some of them here — there’s more on west’s blog. much more. you should definitely head over there and read them all!

note that misdreavus never mentions that hbd is a political or social or ideological movement. THAT’S BECAUSE IT’S NOT! (all emphases are misdreavus’ — except for the all caps in the previous sentence. yes, that was me SHOUTING! (*^_^*) )

“The scientific basis behind so-called ‘human biodiversity’ (or HBD) is blessedly simple in its obviousness, albeit one that goes shockingly under-acknowledged by most who call themselves authorities in the human sciences. We already have enough evidence that genetic variation in the human species must account, in some non-trivial way, for the variation in phenotypic diversity we see among the major extant human populations living today. By that I refer not only to salient differences such as the height gap between Aka Pygmies and Congolese Bantus, or that fact that west Africans have more prognathous jaws than northern Europeans, but also artifacts of our biochemistry such as Type II diabetes (which usually correlates with obesity) or alcohol metabolism (a large percentage of east Asians have abtabuse built into their genomes — Greenland Inuits don’t). Of course. We get it. There is inter-ethnic (or inter-demic, or inter-population — feel free to choose whatever taxonomic subdivision *du jour* is fashionable these days among the PC crowd) variation for virtually every single trait for which there exists variation among members of a single ethnic group: no two Irishmen have noses that are exactly the same shape, and neither do any two races, on average. No two Koreans have skin color that is exactly the same hue, and there is a vast gap in skin color between Norwegians and Dinka. No two Russians are of exactly the same height — not even identical twins, and virtually every single Swede is taller than every single Mbuti pygmy. This much is obvious to anyone with an unimpaired frontal lobe.

“And we can extend this reasoning not only to the aforementioned physical traits (and much more), but also cognitive skills, however they are defined in every single culture — for virtually every single behavioral trait *ever* documented among human beings is heritable. We know that two children who are reared by the same pair of parents can be *strikingly* different in their behavior and temperament, and that these differences almost always persist long past childhood. It matters not how ‘personality’ and ‘temperament’ are defined, or that there are not, never have been, and likely never will be any precise definitions of these terms that are useful to psychological science. (Let us avail ourselves of the postmodernist obscurantism, trenchant reality denial, and casual know-nothingness that you decried earlier in a post about social anthropology. It is enough for us to acknowledge that no two humans are alike in behavior, and that the human mind is not a blank slate.) Behavioral differences between any two people, even identical twins, manifest themselves starting from birth, and they only magnify throughout the lifespan. Not surprisingly, it has been demonstrated that babies from different ethnic groups also demonstrate behavioral differences from the cradle. East Asian babies, on average, tend to remain placid and calm when a soft cloth is dropped over their faces — west African and European babies are the polar opposite. See here.

“If, indeed, it is the case that human beings vary in behavior, and if it has been proven that much of this variation in behavior may be attributed to hereditary causes, then *this alone is sufficient to demonstrate that heredity must explain some of the variation in cognition between any two human populations who vary in their evolutionary history*. Well, has this been proven? Of course it has. ‘Heritability’, as the term is implemented in quantitative genetics, refers to the portion of variation in a phenotype within a population that may be attributed to heritable differences, given a certain range of genotypes and phenotypes: H^2 = Var(G)/Var(P). The classical twin study, as much as it is ballyhooed by idiots in the social sciences who are reality-averse, has provided heritability estimates for a wide array of psychological dimensions ranging from IQ and its subscores (visuospatial, verbal, mathematical, etc.), to reaction time, to the ‘big 5’ (e.g. extraversion/intraversion, neuroticism, etc.), to all psychiatric disorders (e.g. autism, schizophrenia), to what brand of cereal you prefer in the morning, and much more. In virtually all cases, these heritability estimates are higher than zero — often substantially higher than zero. They are not only consistent with studies of identical twins reared apart, but also longitudinal adoption studies: studies with sample sizes ranging in the multiple thousands have demonstrated consistently that adopted children, even when adopted during early infancy, resemble their biological parents to a vastly higher degree than they resemble the adults who actually raised them (i.e. ‘adoptive’ parents).

“And one of the most common, and in fact the overarching application of heritability estimates is evolution. Heritability estimates tell you precisely how much a trait will change in a population, over time, as a response to selection. In other words, if the smallest 25% of all cattle in a herd failed to reproduce every generation, how much would you expect that trait to increase over time? Given even modest selection on any trait from height, to violence, to ‘visuospatial IQ’, to extroversion, and much more — just about how much heritable variation would you expect see between the disparate human populations on Earth since the time we migrated out of east Africa?

“The answer is obvious. if you have read ‘The 10,000 Year Explosion’ by Cochran and Harpending (which I’m not sure you have), the authors provide ample evidence that substantial heritable change is possible in the relative blink of an eye — hundreds or thousands of years, not just tens of thousands. (Evolutionarily speaking, of course.) It is a trivial matter to ensure that a population, twenty generations from now, will be on average as bright as the brightest 2% within that population today. Today’s Scandinavians are not yesterday’s Vikings. Han Chinese in Sichuan Province today are not genetically exchangeable with Chinese during the reign of the first Qin Emperor. Swedes are not Norwegians, Egyptian Copts are not Muslims, and Hejazi Arabs are not Najdi Arabs. I could belabor this point ad nauseam, but I believe I have made my point sufficiently clear.

“Of course, this is not to say that all of the variation in behavior you see among human beings is hereditary in origin. Nobody ever claimed that — a heritability estimate below 1.0 proves some source of variation that is exogenous to the germ plasm, or perhaps a statistical artifact that is generated in the process of (imperfectly) measuring the trait in question.”


the big m also had something to say about the ideas tossed around on this blog (thanks, misdreavus!). i’m thinking i’m gonna just hand the reigns over to him, because he’s summarized the theory (with a small “t”) better than i can! (~_^)

“You also misrepresent some of the basic claims of some of the bloggers in the HBD sphere. HBD-chick, for one, who does a lot of blogging about consanguineous marriages and its implications for human evolution. You claim:

“‘That account also makes bizarre claims, like the idea that altruism is greater in societies that have complex marriage systems and that ‘marry out’ of the family unit – because, apparently, when you marry out of your circle for generation after generation, everyone you meet is almost guaranteed to be your relative and therefore worthier of compassion!’

“No. The point is that human populations vary considerably, throughout the ages, in the *degree and prevalence of consanguineous marriages*, and that basic arithmetic would show you that this will increase the relatedness of two members within an extended family beyond what may be expected from random mating. The Gulf Arabs have been marrying their cousins for *centuries*, and this practice possibly dates earlier than the prophet Muhammad — Norwegians and Danes *haven’t*. This means that Saudis, on average, are much more inbred than your typical northern European, and that this difference can be measured through segments of DNA that are ‘IBD’ (identical by descent) — Arabs share a lot more of these than ethnic groups where cousin marriage is taboo.

“The coefficients of relatedness work somewhat like this: normally, your brother shares half of your DNA that is identical by descent, as do your biological parents. Your nieces and nephews share 1/4. Your cousins share 1/8. So on, and so forth. Hamilton’s laws demonstrate altruism (e.g. reducing your own fitness, on the behalf of someone other than yourself) can boost an organism’s fitness, on average, if the recipient of the altruism increases *its fitness* in a way that is commensurate with the relatedness of the altruist and the recipient. In other words, rB > c.

“Imagine that by sacrificing your life to save your brother who is drowning, you thereby ensure that your brother would have three additional children that he would not have otherwise had, had he been permitted to sink (and drown). On average, this would ensure a net benefit of fitness for yourself, despite the fact that you have totally abandoned the carrier of your genes (your body) by sacrificing yourself on behalf of your brother. Why? Because 3 multipled by 1/2 (the fraction of genes that your brother, on average, shares in common with you) is greater than 1. You will have increased your contribution to the gene pool. And any alleles that promote such an altruistic behavior on behalf of a person, for his blood relatives, should increase in frequency through selection. This is especially the case for populations that have been inbreeding throughout the ages — because brothers, in this circumstance, are more related to each other than ordinary brothers.

“The idea is that this sort of consanguinity would increase the fitness rewards for altruism *on behalf of blood relatives* to an unusually high degree that is absent among populations that have been out-breeding. In other words, it increases the odds of nepotism, clannishness, and feuding between clans, among other anti-social behaviors that make a civil society very difficult, among other destructive consequences. (Without peeking, who is more likely to help his brother cheat on a standardized test to qualify for a job — the average Najdi Arab, or the average Finn?)

“For societies that have been deliberately *outbreeding*, the exact opposite scenario occurs — distant relatives, whether you realize it consciously or not, are more related to you than they would be in a society with perfectly random mating, and hence you see higher levels of the low-degree altruism that makes the sort of society you see in Woebegon Lake or Sweden possible. The idea is that Swedes are much more willing to sacrifice their fitness in a modest way on behalf of complete strangers who are members of their ethnic group, e.g. by paying higher taxes, and that this tendency has been selected for since the introduction of Christianity during the medieval era, which forbade consanguineous marriages throughout much of western Europe. Like I said earlier. You only need hundreds of years to see a noticeable change.

“If you remain skeptical of this theory, all is fine, but let me tell you something — it does a decent job explaining why the Swedish welfare state works perfectly fine for Scandinavians, but results in utter dysfunction for Somali refugees. It explains why democracy persistently fails in certain parts of the world, despite billions of dollars spent on aid, foreign advisers, and the best advice of seasoned policymakers — some people don’t give a damn about people outside their extended family, and you can’t change that. It explains why there is a west-east cline in Europe for corruption, social trust, and civic mindedness, inasmuch as they can be measured by political scientists — Ukrainians are much more corrupt than the Norwegians, and they’ve been this way for a long time. It does NOT say that all human behavior is genetically mediated, or that altruism is automatically greater in societies were people have been marrying unrelated persons.”

everyone should be skeptical of this theory! i am. (or, at least, i try to keep reminding myself to be. (~_^) )

(note: comments do not require an email. misdreavus?)

social mobility and social competence

from gregory clark’s new book The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility [pgs. 3-10]:

“Most people believe, from their own experience of families, friends, and acquaintances, that we live in a world of slow social mobility. The rich beget the rich, the poor beget the poor. Between the Old Etonian and the slum dweller, between Govan and Richmond Drive, lies a gulf of generations. But a hundred years of research by psychologists, sociologists, and economists seems to suggest that this belief is fictional. Conventional estimates imply that social mobility is rapid and pervasive. The Old Etonian and the slum dweller are cousins.

“Standard estimates suggest high modern intergenerational mobility rates….

“These conclusions from conventional scholarly estimates of social mobility rates, however, sit poorly with popular perceptions of social mobility. People looking back to their own grandparents, or forward to their grandchildren, do not generally see the kind of disconnect in status that these estimates imply. People looking at their siblings or cousins see a much greater correlation in status than is implied by the intergenerational correlations reported above….

“Using surnames to track the rich and poor through many generations in various societies — England, the United States, Sweden, India, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, and Chile — this book argues that our commonsense intuition of a much slower rate of intergenerational mobility is correct. Surnames turn out to be a surprisingly powerful instrument for measuring social mobility. And they reveal that there is a clear, striking, and consistent social physics of intergenerational mobility that is not reflected in most modern studies of the topic.

“The problem is not with the studies and estimates themselves. What they measure, they measure correctly. The problem arises when we try to use these estimates of mobility rates for individual characteristics to predict what happens over long periods to the general social status of families. Families turn out to have a general social competence or ability that underlies partial measures of status such as income, education, and occupation. These partial measures are linked to this underlying, not directly observed, social competence only with substantial random components. The randomness with which underlying status produces particular observed aspects of status creates the illusion of rapid social mobility using conventional measures.

“Underlying or overall social mobility rates are much lower than those typically estimated by sociologists or economists. The intergenerational correlation in all the societies for which we construct surname estimates — medieval England, modern England, the United States, India, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Chile, and even egalitarian Sweden — is between 0.7 and 0.9, much higher than conventionally estimated. Social status is inherited as strongly as any biological trait, such as height. Figure 1.6 compares conventional estimates of mobility (for income and years of education) with those yielded by surname measures….

greg clark - fig 1.6

“Mobility is consistent across generations. Although it may take ten or fifteen generations, social mobility will eventually erase most echoes of initial advantage or want.

“Counterintuitively, the arrival of free public education in the late nineteenth century and the reduction of nepotism in government, education, and private firms have not increased social mobility. Nor is there any sign that modern economic growth has done so. The expansion of the franchise to ever-larger groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries similarly has had no effect. Even the redistributive taxation introduced in the twentieth century in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Sweden seemingly has had no impact. In particular, once we measure generalized social mobility, there is no sign that inequality is linked to social mobility rates. Instead social mobility seems to be a constant, independent of inequality.”

razib suggests, given clark’s thesis of an underlying “general social competence” to which all the other social status factors correlate, that the book should be called the s factor. (~_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. social mobility indicator.)