Jonathan Mendel

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March 02, 2009

Thomas Barnett on counterinsurgency: "what we're seeing are non-mainstream media venues increasingly serving as the center of gravity for new thinking and new consensus in all sorts of fields"

Fascinating virtual round table on the new media and counterinsurgency at Small Wars Journal [PDF]. Thomas Barnett's contribution is particularly interesting:

My sense is that what we're seeing are non-mainstream media venues increasingly serving as the center of gravity for new thinking and new consensus in all sorts of fields. The MSM finds this disturbing, considering itself to the be the final arbiter of such things when it comes to issues of interest to the public, and so routinely seeks to sell a sense a hierarchy by which unconventional venues are natural feeders to conventional ones, almost like entrepreneurial firms go to market with their new products via big firms. But ideas are more viral, obviously, and so the assumption that they need the institutional blessing of established actors is more suspect. When you're talking about a hierarchical institution like the military, assumptions of feeder-versus-fed are even harder to trump, and yet operational experience throughout this long war has consistently triggered new conventions (no surprise in itself given the length of conflict).

What's different is the breakdown of the Cold War wall between the realm of military and civilian, meaning we see military learning and discovering outside their accepted range of norms, in subject matters for which there is no natural hierarchy within military thinking.

This is fascinating, and raises a few further questions:
- Is the breakdown of this wall a positive thing - allowing valuable new input into the media. Or are we seeing something more like what Gregory views as a cultural turn in counter-insurgency, where these new ideas are used to "artfully reinforce...the therapeutic effects of the cultural turn".
- What are the risks of this collapse of barriers and spread of viral ideas? It is genuinely fascinating how ideas can take grip and spread in fora such as 4Chan, but the thought of a heavily armed version of anonymous or icanhazcheezburger does make me rather nervous.
- How new are 'new' media? I have been using these media in one context or another for all of my adult life, and I'm no longer a spotty teenager... The fact that such media are viewed as 'new' by some - the military, the mainstream media, etc. - might in itself be of interest.

If you want to follow this further, the discussion on Abu Muqawama is well worth a look.

Posted by jon_mendel at March 2, 2009 02:39 AM

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