In the theory of fifth generation warfare there is a concept called the super empowered individual. “A super empowered individual, in my view, is autonomously capable of creating a cascading event that grand strategist Dr Thomas P.M. Barnett has termed a ‘system perturbation’; a disruption of system function and invalidation of existing rule sets to at least the national but more likely the global scale. The key requirements to become ‘superempowered’ are comprehension of a complex system’s connectivity and operation; access to critical network hubs; possession of a force that can be leveraged against the structure of the system and a willingness to use it”. This is an extension of non-state warfare beyond the paradigm of fourth generation warfare, where the battlespace moves beyond the control or comprehension of the nation-states with the introduction of non- or sub-state actors that challenge sovereignty.
The super empowered individual takes these logics down towards minute scales, with the capacity to disrupt systems and affect the battlespace being held within the hands of an individual or a small group. The organisation of warfare becomes chaotic as the cost of technologies that allow for conflict-making capabilities become much cheaper, particularly accessibility to the internet and thus the ability to publish and distort information. The extension of challenges to sovereignty moves from the parastatal as the emerging actor of conflict toward a heterogeneous field of potential actors that can organise into parastatal structures but that can also devolve toward discordant mobs and individuals armed with an assault rifle or with social media connectivity.
A particular manifestation of this concept can be seen in memetic warfare, with the connective power of social media cohering loose groups that can engage in information warfare and create particular delineations of wider culture wars. I’ve written previously about this with regards to the emergence and flourishing of autonomous zones and siege accelerationist groups during the George Floyd riots last summer. What these events presented was an interminability of conflict, as two sides didn’t just disagree but existed in parallel ecosystems. “Today, nearly every national issue in the United States is what the blogger Scott Alexander has called a ‘scissor’ issue — one that is not merely divisive but in which the opposing sides seem to be operating in different planes of reality”. Conflict isn’t the outcome of opposing camps, but the way in which these planes of reality interact with each other as memetic and information warfare extend over social media and wider media spaces and institutions. There isn’t the option of dialogue except as an after effect to explain events rather than to prevent discord, with such explanations falling along ideological lines.
Within these separate but intersecting planes of reality, the ability for the super empowered individual to inhere conflict and engage beyond their initial capacities is vast. The kinds of riots and protests being seen today, from the George Floyd riots and the anti-lockdown protests in 2020, to the anti-vaccine mandate protests and riots being seen in Europe this year, are conflagrations of loosely-collected individuals and groups (connected significantly through social media) coming together for shared (but wide and varied) ideological and ethical reasons. In other words, sharing memetic connections that translate into various forms of political action and conflict. The nation-state in these scenarios is superseded and subsumed into the wider ideological networks and mobs that delineate planes of reality. The conflict interjects within the lines of sovereignty, as the individual is empowered through technological and ideological means to use violence on their own (or their groups’) behalf.
“Superempowerment describes the process by which individuals and small groups are using:
- rapidly improving tools (the doubling rate of Moore’s law applied to technologies accessible to the average individual),
- connectivity to a global community and its resources (how to use those tools from MIT courseware to Jihadi “how to” sites),
- and newly accessible forms of economic activity that transcend state control,
to radically improve their productivity in warfare”.
Connectivity and accessibility are the key points here to describing how loosely organised mobs and groups can become central figures in culture wars and ideological struggles that entwine the structures of the state within them. The memetic effect of Black Lives Matter or critical race theory has influenced or produced election results and has led to ideological adaptation amongst the structures of the deep state in America and international corporations. All now have diversity and inclusivity pledges or policies driven by HR politicking. Nearly all espouse rhetoric that evokes social and racial justice. Whether we think of this as woke capital or a neoliberal PSYOP, the memetic effects are the same. State sovereignty is now captured by these wider cultural delineations.
Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial showed this acutely. The actual facts of the case showed a clear cut case of self-defence, where an armed teenager was chased down and attacked by rioters who aimed to hurt or kill him. Prosecution witness testimony and video footage confirmed this. But the actual facts were irrelevant as who he attacked and what that represented were more important. “An act of teenage knuckleheadedness derived not from political extremism but from a misguided desire to serve the community” was seen as an act of racial injustice. The wider idea of defending one’s community from rioting and looting are themselves seen as white supremacism, and thus sites of struggle to be fought upon. Political elites bought into this, from Ayanna Presley declaring Rittenhouse a domestic terrorist to Biden openly disagreeing with the jury’s acquittal.
It revealed the anarcho-tyrannical system growing in America. The selective justice as seen through the intensity of media coverage and the prosecutorial mishandling of the case for what the facts show was self-defence. It required legal acrobatics like “crossing state lines” or “intent to kill”, both of which were untrue. Just compare the outrage to Rittenhouse’s shooting of three rioters with the muted reaction to the riots, with many politicians and celebrities supporting them as part of the wider BLM cause. “The prosecution exhibited egregious behavior and even the FBI tried to save their case at the last moment. The asymmetries in place could not be more stark”. Deep state organisations and operatives and their wider machinations have murky but partisan agendas, attempting to maintain power through whatever narrative they can. The memetic spread of HR-based racial justice is simply another narrative designed to do just that, thus allowing these organisations to ride the wave of popularity alongside the mobs that act upon them. Governments (from local to federal) abandoning places like Kenosha, Minneapolis and Seattle to these riots reveals this.
The Rittenhouse effect is then anarcho-tyranny shown blatantly, as well as the other side of super-empowered individuals. Rittenhouse himself both is and isn’t such an actor. He is in that he is an individual representing a wider ideal of community protection and order who acted upon it. However, he has not created cascades in the vulnerable structures of American governance. Rather the memetic effect of his trial and the partisanship around it have further exposed the delineations of the culture war and lack of neutrality amongst institutions. They all have an interest in maintaining power, and the cultural power now lies in phony concepts of social justice that is corporate-friendly and unquestioning of actual power structures.
The flipside of the super empowered individual that the Rittenhouse effect reveals is that of the cornered animal, forced to strike out in a desperate situation. For that is what Kyle Rittenhouse actually did. The spectacle of his trial only went onto confirm that such desperation will become increasingly common for anyone that intercedes between their community and the state to protect or support it from transgressive actors. They will find they are targets on the battlespace rather than citizens or patriots. As the parallel to creating cascading failures, it instead reinforces efforts to create structures independent of these bureaucratic systems and their apparatchiks, exiting anarcho-tyranny and as a result drawing firmer battle lines between the deep state and its industrial complexes on one side, and communities looking to preserve their ways of life on the other.