Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Patterns of 4GW Entity Growth

John Robb recently touched on what Law Enforcement has been calling ‘hybrid gangs’ – groups that are “…characterized by members of different racial/ethnic groups participating in a single gang, individuals participating in multiple gangs, unclear rules or codes of conduct, symbolic associations with more than one well established gang (e.g., use of colors and graffiti from different gangs), cooperation of rival gangs in criminal activity, and frequent mergers of small gangs…” – and I want to review this concept, as I think it illustrates a crack in the wall of the nation-state that will erode into a full-blown breach in the coming years.

Hybrid Gangs

First, it is my opinion that the hybrid gang concept is more a temporary platform, along the lines of Robb’s Bazaar concept. When it comes to primary loyalties, it is my opinion (and I could be – and hope I am – wrong here) that things like ethnicity and family ties will trump any minimal-to-moderate advantages provided by a hybrid platform, where multiple “tribes” learn to cooperate and reap benefits from it. The platform will work for short time scales, in order to reap immediate benefits, but it will, in a world devolving towards primary loyalties at a rapid pace, often serve only as a formalized truce, where various gangs or tribes can find ways to cooperate for their mutual benefit. But since the nature of most criminal enterprises winds up killing the golden goose – by crushing business development and trade – the context will rarely remains stable enough for such hybrid platforms to become self-sustaining. Ironically, Law Enforcement might actually be helping these platforms to grow, by keeping the violence and crime damped down enough whereby these groups are forced to cooperate to survive.

The data point provided in Robb’s post has a telling quote, though, that strikes at the heart of the matter:

In Kansas, Wichita Police Det. Loren Johnson said some experts would be very surprised by some of the behavior patterns they see in their hybrid gangs. Rival gangs co-exist peacefully on the same block, which police say is better for their crime business. There’s no loyalty beyond money, Johnson added.

This appears to be the hallmark of a transition period (albeit one that could last many, many years). Groups and gangs are building up membership. In the hybrid case, we have ambitious gang leaders trying out new forms of organization in the bazaar. Some will work better than others, but considering the membership – individuals looking for purpose in their lives and money in their pockets, taking the mental leap to a multi-ethnic or multi-tribal system will not be easy for many of them. The resulting infighting and splinter groups that will emerge will, in time, shatter these hybrid platforms.

Leadership Challenges

That said, those remarkable few individuals or small groups with the management skills, charisma, luck and intelligence to forge temporary platforms for one-off criminal jobs or short-term crime waves will probably be able to reap vast financial benefits from a hybrid platform. The 4GW leaders that can forge a reliable crew made up of hackers, triggermen, drivers, moles inside government bureaucracies (for inside info, forged identifications, etc.) and a team of finance quants to launder the money will reap vast rewards as long as they are nimble enough to navigate the failing nation-state system of Law Enforcement.

It is the health of Law Enforcement and Judicial systems that will, in my opinion, drive the speed at which 4GW entities will penetrate the nation-state and feed off of the tax revenue via corruption, sweetheart deals and outright theft.

One thought – very high salaries for judges, in exchange for yearly audits of every judge’s (and his or her family’s) finances combined with extensive reviews of decisions. Good judges are left in place and benefit from consistent rulings, bad judges get tossed aside. Law Enforcement could be treated similarly, but it would also probably require the decriminalization of many activities (drugs, prostitution, etc.) so the cops can focus on more pressing issues of murder, violent crimes and theft.

But, then, we are back to the ancient conundrum – who will watch the watchers? A single generation of fools would wreck the entire system. Of course, the same could be said for any social system ever devised…

What To Watch For

Hybrid Gangs might evolve some non-pathological forms, especially if we see a downturn in social cohesion and mood. Local groups will respond to increased violence and uncertainty with various forms of vigilantism. A sort of hybrid gang might be the Chamber of Commerce, the Optimists and a local Gun Club, who create an informal group to monitor their community and act when Law Enforcement might be impotent due to corruption. Of course, the unintended consequences of those activities would be a further erosion of the state’s influence…

The long reach of 4GW entities will not necessarily make the biggest splash in Iraq or potentially in Georgia – but it will be felt most strongly in currently wealthy Western countries, where the opportunity to quietly hijack government structures for personal ends is all around us, every day, at every level of government that we encounter. We could wake up one day and be living on a Mob movie set, with a thousand mafias, large and small, blooming like a thick algae in the pond of our civilization.

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