Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Three

We all have a learned bias that the purpose of an insurgency is to overthrow an existing political process or governance entity. Certainly, that is the focus of real-world, leadership-driven insurgent action. But it is not their purpose.

Their purpose, as examples of CAS, is what they do, not what they say they do.

And what do they do?

They sabotage the particular system that is their focus (SOF). Because of the entanglement, they also sabotage the other systems which they ignore.

While some insurgencies try to do much more, it is the purpose of sabotage, in all its many dimensions, that maintains an insurgency over long periods of time, and allows it to recover from defeats. Sabotage is the core of insurgent resilience.

How does this sabotage-based resilience express itself?

  • Insurgencies are fractal
  • Insurgencies are micro-diverse
  • Insurgencies are entangled
  • Insurgencies are possibility-spaces


A fractal system, such as an insurgency, has roughly the same amount of agency and complexity at every level of the system, even though it seems that the lower the level, the less the scope of sabotage. This principle violates the ordinary assumptions we use in understanding the nature of social reality. With the advent of global social media, we have discovered this principle in the reality that our local social communication has no boundaries, reaching far beyond what we intended or what we believe is safe.

Our notions of scope are also subject to this fractal principle. Think of looking out over, or listening to, a vast field in the distant parts of a visual or auditory scene. They will be lacking in detail. If you use binoculars, you will be able to see greater detail. If you use a hearing device, you will be able to identify the nature of the sounds you are hearing. If you move closer, more understanding is apparent.

An insurgency is like this idea of scope, distance, and detail. As you get closer to the “lower” levels of the insurgent system, you will see greater detail and a more nuanced impact from the insurgent activity than you could see at the so-called “higher” level.

As an example of how fractal models operate, think of the current pandemic, often described as a single event or process (with identifiable surges, for example), but actually consisting of an extremely large number of local epidemics that start, rise and fall off with a lot of foggy independence and boundaries, and an only apparent overall coherence.

It is an illusion to think that an insurgency can be defeated by focusing effort on the highest levels of leadership, their orchestrated violent acts, their methods for funding themselves, their ideologies. As the repeated elite success in accomplishing the defeat of these highest levels shows, any insurgency continues to boil below, and will break out again with a new set of leaders, ideologies, and violent acts when enough energy to do so has built up. This energy can simmer through very local, very granular sabotage by individuals and small groups that are not immediately controlled by any hierarchy.

The centrist elite CAS (whose job it is to preserve the elite CAS by defeating the large-scale insurgent action) believes, as it does in so many other areas, that defeating the management of the insurgency (their leadership, ideology, and large-scale acts) is the same as defeating the insurgency. Elites must believe this, or face very difficult questions about their ability to gain and hold wealth, power, and reputation. See “How tech’s richest plan to save themselves after the apocalypse”.

But any action (like the ones described above) that doesn’t directly undermine the resilience of an insurgency will only solve some immediate short term political problem. It won’t affect the continuing small incremental changes in the elite CAS and other insurgencies that result from the relentless sabotage arising at every level and across the insurgent universe.

There is simply no way to eliminate sabotage, which is the unstated impossible goal of the relentless search for more control that has been the implicit mission of social elites (along with the explicit missions of ever-increasing wealth, fame, and power). This is the deep weakness of the goal of “managing” insurgencies.


All CAS that function in the real world are micro-diverse. For our purposes, this means that they create many small variations as part of their CAS dynamic, and they auto-create more variation over time without explicit plan or external control.

Variation and micro-diversity are not only unavoidable, but are an important part of any CAS’s resilience. This clearly apparent in the resilience of insurgencies.

For example, “Lone-wolf terrorism” is one weak, appallingly limited, recognition by the elite CAS that micro-diversity in insurgencies is a real and difficult problem. For the elite CAS, micro-variations must always be cognitively and politically washed out by one another, so that only the problems important to elites remain and, thus, can be “managed”.

The trend of incrementally increasing CAS disruption through this uncontrolled variation has no place in such an elite strategy. Supposedly, important variation can’t happen at low level, or at least not very often, only ignorable or controllable variation.


Micro-diversity means that neither the insurgencies nor the elite CAS can be pure, in any meaning of that word. For example, each member of an insurgency has a partially overlapping but different set of beliefs and a different background-basically, a huge and ever-growing micro-diversity that includes various beliefs from the centrist elites’ and the other insurgencies’ lexicons. Management of this unavoidable and continuing variation is part of the leadership challenge in the elite CAS and in the right and left insurgencies. But the variation will continue to spread, no matter how leadership tries (say, for example, through annual webinars, codes of conduct, office posters, and marketing the importance of alignment, or cultish, downward control over belief) to eliminate it.

If you follow social media accounts of actual people (not bots), you will find posts that do not track their current matrix of troll-triggering tropes, but that contain actions and values from the centrist and the various insurgencies. If we could follow these individuals more carefully, we would find that the variation is a lot more than appears on the surface, and that it is constantly shifting in small ways. Variation doesn’t need explanation; rather, the effort and energy unavoidably necessary to assure ideological, financial, and consistency of control is what needs to be explained.

So, for example, an election result, requiring as it does a forced choice, is not an indicator of the actual variation in the system of focus. Everyone knows this, but the temptation to “eliminate” the real variation by projecting a category on all those who pick one of the forced choices seems unavoidable. I blame elites for this illusion, and the illusion is becoming less and less usable as a tool of control.

Evolving in a Possibility-Space

Every intention by individuals, groups, or collectives, like insurgencies, creates a possibility space for its realization. This space does not contain simple causal link paths from intention to realization (like a logic model), but rather is a kind of disposition possibility space in which many choices are “superimposed” as it were. We feel for some direction from initial intention to realization through a unique path (See Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System by Alicia Juarrero for a wonderful and deep dive into this).

In any apparently collective intention, the possibility-space will also include flows that go against the apparent intention. For example, insurgencies create their own antitheses through their current members. But they also create a large variety of other active enabling and disruptive paths from the original intention. The thing to understand about this evolution is that it can’t be predicted in any detail, and not being able to grasp this results in surprising and unintended consequences.

All four of these dimensions interact with one another as well, producing together an evolving Macro-CAS whose path is very uncertain. However, this CAS can be embraced as a disposition of its evolution in an entangled Web of Meaning.

Part One
Part Two

Part Four: The Macro-CAS as a Turbulent Web of Meaning

Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, advocate50+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, Tom and Pepper the wundermutts