1st December 2008: Two Examples of Waking Sleep

The Graeco-Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff argued in the early 20th century that humanity lives much of its life in a form of waking sleep.  This all sounds very theoretical — Gurdjieff was the subject of one of my first four dossiers in 1998 for Disinformation and a 2001 undergraduate essay — but the right circumstances can drive his point home with clarity.

This past weekend provides two examples apart from the Mumbai siege.  In the first, Jdimytai Damour an agency temp was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart sale in Long Island, New York, on Black Friday, 28th November 2008.  Associated Press coverage quotes Kimberly Cribbs that customers acted like “savages”.  The New York Times blamed the media for creating unrealistic expectations about Black Friday sale bargains: the catalyst for a mania.  In the second, Sydney’s Glebe Coroner’s Court has held an inquest into Emma Hansen’s death: Hansen was a pedestrian accidentally killed in 2007 by learner driver Rose Deng, who is still permitted to drive by Australian authorities.  Both incidents illustrate on a micro-scale Gurdjieff’s Law of Accident or Law of Hazard (“when an event happens without the lines of the events we observe”).

For two overviews of Gurdjieff’s philosophy see Richard Smoley‘s introduction to Gnosis Magazine’s special issue here and John Shirley‘s essay The Shadows of Ideas.  I also recommend Shirley’s book Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Ideas (Tarcher, San Francisco, 2004) and his DVD commentary as co-scriptwriter for Alex Proyas’ dark gothic masterpiece The Crow (1994), infamous for another Law of Accident case: Brandon Lee‘s accidental death during a film stunt.

Mumbai Siege: The Hunt for the Perpetrators

Counterterrorism analysts search for answers as the official death toll from Mumbai’s siege rises to 183 people.  We now enter Susan Moeller‘s second stage of post-terrorist attacks: the hunt for the perpetrators and seeking justice.  See my October 2001 analysis here on the September 11 aftermath and Henry Rollins’ reaction in New York City.

Slate‘s Anne Applebaum observes that we don’t yet know much about the group that carried out the attacks.  Applebaum’s analysis echoes Walter Laqueur‘s ‘new terrorism’ thesis in the mid-to-late 1990s: attempts at mass casualty attacks, tactics from the guerrilla and insurgency playbook, an ideological mix, and groups that either do not claim credit or who are not on the radar of counterterrorism analysts.  Applebaum captures Gregory Treverton‘s distinction between solvable ‘puzzles’ and potentially unsolvable ‘mysteries’ in intelligence analysis.

“The particulars of the attacking group are unknown; the
political-military equation from which the group has almost certainly
arisen is not,” notes The New Yorker‘s Steve Coll.  The most plausible hypotheses for Coll and other counterterrorism experts are: (1) Pakistan’s intelligence services may have funded the group in a clandestine/proxy war with India; or (2) the group emerged as an autonomous cell that was ideologically motivated by the clandestine/proxy war.  Coll explains why at this early stage the Mumbai siege is closer to Treverton’s ‘mysteries’:

If past investigations into such groups prove to be any guide, it may
be difficult to find clear-cut evidence of direct involvement by
Pakistani intelligence or army personnel. This is because Pakistan,
knowing the stakes of getting caught red-handed, has increasingly
pursued its clandestine proxy war against India in Kashmir and on the
Indian mainland through layers and layers of self-managing and
non-state groups. The Pakistani government and its domestic Islamist
proxies, including nominally peaceful charities based in Pakistan but
with operations in Kashmir, almost certainly pass through money and
weapons on a large scale. They do so, however, in such a way that is
very difficult to trace these supplies back to the government.

Applebaum highlights the epistemological challenges that counterterrorism analysts face; Coll offers some guidance on how to conduct an investigation on the basis of ‘contingent’ beliefs and alternative hypotheses.

Pakistan’s government denies any role
in the Mumbai attacks.  Perhaps forensic analysis of crime scene
evidence will provide answers and shift the current speculation from
Treverton’s ‘mystery’ to ‘puzzle’.  Or maybe not.

The next day Coll analyses India’s claim that the group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the Mumbai attack.