CCLKOW: Major Jones Describes a Model of Domestic Discontent

Greetings CCLKOW readers. This week we are happy to bring another voice of the British armed forces to the fray. We will call him, for now, Major Jones, to reflect his Welsh origins. This thought piece arises from a presentation in which I found the conceptualisation of the dynamics of the political and security situation within South Africa to be compelling and worth further discussion. In this piece the Major describes how patterns of reaction to issues, rather than the issues themselves, may be the greater irritant to societal harmony than the underlying problem. This has significant implications for the improvement of that specific situation in South Africa. However, at a broader level, to identify the manner in which nearly invisible nuances alter the perception and appreciation of actions intended to improve the social, political, and economic landscape is critical to military affairs. These deep societal influences will matter as more activity in the defence and security realm revolves around either ‘upstream’ activities that prevent or minimise conflict or ‘peace-verbing’ campaigns to end the chaos. So, read the post, consider the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW. — JSR, ed

South Africa is suffering from a wide range of internal issues which are inhibiting social, political and economic progress. The combination of these issues has led to a general sense of disappointment across its varied communities. Disappointment and dissatisfaction are terms that appear regularly in commentary on the current situation. This dissatisfaction emanates from the lack of social equality and economic success; progress promised in the years following their emergence from apartheid. The lack of progress and current perceived economic downturn has led to civil unrest in the form of protests, strikes (which turn violent through group polarisation), and crime as the different groups seek to source their own solutions. The civil unrest has subsequently led to conflict, mistrust and division between the communities as they revert to blaming each other (social sectarianism) for the ongoing difficulties. This increased inter-group fracturing leads directly back to disappointment, as the social inequality/division is more evident, economic success is further hindered and so on, creating a Cycle of Disappointment (COD).

In this situation disappointment rather than the contributing issue has become the referent object inhibiting progress, where acknowledgment of the disappointment feeds the cycle. Although exogenous factors are also present, they represent independent trigger events and are not continually required to feed the cycle. The identification of cycles to explain unrest is nothing new; in ancient Athens a cycle of civil unrest, complicated by external frictions was identified and only broken by long term concentration on reconciliation. Although the cycle initially continued once identified, by focussing on the end state and upholding and promoting their social values, eventually the cycle was broken. More recently cycles such as Clidonamycs have also been proposed, which look at cycles to model conflict likelihood using broad social factors[1] to predict cycles of unrest. This concept remains academically unverified and when applied in isolation they can only predict broad trends, which is a limitation for this model as well. What may be more useful is to look at where COD could apply within larger, better understood cycles & social movements. The four stages of a social movement according to J Christiansen are emergence, coalescence, bureaucratisation, and decline (resolution). Focusing on the decline (ending the movement), this can result from several different causes; repression, co-optation, success, failure, or becoming mainstream.[2]

If South Africa is caught in a COD it will be unable to break away from stage two (coalescence). In order to transition to stage three/four, policies need to focus on breaking the COD and not tackling individual issues. This explains why the methods currently employed by the South African government to resolve issues seem only to ignite new movements and result in further disappointment. The disruption caused also leads to counter movements against that group (not the issue). Thus, the efforts intended to improve the situation in fact feed the COD, which is becomes self-perpetuating. Although applied here to South Africa, it could be easily applied globally where the recurrent failure to meet misguided promised progress creates a self-perpetuating negative impact larger than the failure itself.

Based on this analysis, the questions for discussion this week:

Dealing in security, broadly conceived, requires an appreciation of societal nuances and undercurrents which determine the effect of military action. To what extent do the armed forces appreciate this in advance in planning? The anthropologists have been drafted in service, and the historians already assist to inform, but what could be done better, or sooner, to incorporate this knowledge? Or, should such analysis be done outside the armed forces with the results dictated to them for the purposes of planning?

[1] Population numbers, social structure, state strength and political instability.

[2] Christiansen J, Four Stages of Social Movements — 2009.

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