The Way of the Gang

Some time ago, I put forth the idea that organized criminal gangs could be thought of as a form of asymmetric tribal warfare, and I vowed to examine the subject. That was a while ago, but I never forgot, and here I finally get around to approaching the subject (and yes, some of the other things I promised to write about previously are percolating as you read this. Mark my words, the Sigma Point is coming).

That said, what are gangs? Gangs are a tool developed for certain purposes, usually that of protection, though other self-interests, frequently the desire for economic gain,* also come into play (note how gangs often arise in circumstances when resources are scarce and/or the threat of outside dangers is high). They are, in other words, intelligently-designed thedes (in the sense that they were created by sentient intelligences, not necessarily that the creators are intelligent per se).

Gangs often have an ethno-nationalist component to them, and have a tendency to arise in circumstances in which sense of ethnic solidarity is high. Take a look at the division lines among prison gangs: the need to survive forces one to bond with others of ones’ race. To paraphrase Wesley Morganston, it turns out that the state of nature is ethnic gangs.

What is a tribe? A tribe is a group of (often related) people banding together for survival. It is difficult not to see conflict between gangs as a form of ethnic-based tribal warfare.

So yes, we can certainly define gangs as tribes and gang conflict as tribal warfare. The tricky bit is not in this act of definition, but in defending how this dynamic is asymmetric.

On the surface, it isn’t. Yet, this is because we forget that there is always a bigger gang out there. Gangs do not just fight each other, they also fight against their common enemy, the biggest gang of them all: the government.

Governments are, for all intents and purpose, a sedentary gang that controls a large area. King. President. Warlord. Chieftain. The difference is one of semantics, not particularly of kind.

The difference in power is what renders this conflict asymmetric. Gangs are not usually strong enough to take on the might of the government. This can occur only when the dynamic to a more balanced arrangement (as in the case of the Mexican cartels) or when the government is unwilling to bring down the hammer due to reasons of psychological handicap and not sheer capacity for violence.

The past 200 years have seen organized gangs survive by stealth in the face of the Leviathan. Value systems like Omerta were developed in order to ensure that the incarceration of one member was not a deathblow to the group and that organized criminal groups could remain shrouded in secrecy. The punishment for “rats” and “snitches” was a painful death, a brutal yet effective solution to the problem of potential defection in a set-up that put the “prisoner” in Prisoner’s Dilemma.

So what will the future of organized crime look like? Mexican cartels are one possible example. ISIS is actually another. Though it’s not completely off-base to refer to them as jihadi terrorists, one can just as easily (and correctly) say that they are an organized crime syndicate with a unique religious and political bent that is functionally the ruling government in its territory (analogies with gangs that “control” certain city blocks practically smack one in the face). They certainly make money the same way as organized criminal gangs.

This is definitely one potential future we might see. Gangs could very well move into the vacuum created by chaotic events and take on more of what we might consider formal power. My prediction, however, is something more subtle. I think for the short-term and medium-term future, gangs will continue to operate under the radar for now, and their importance in the affairs of people is generally going to increase.

Why do I believe this? It is because gangs are fairly well-optimized not only for 4th generation warfare (non-state actors waging war on states, which is arguably what gangs do anyway), and not just for the ultimate manifestation of what 4th generation warfare* will become, but also for the coming age of 5th generation warfare.* Gangs, which waned in power with the rise of the powerful, centralized nation-state, are ideal units for the coming age of conflict, and will return in prominence as the future plays out.

This will become especially true the more Orwellian western countries become. As more and more people pull away from viewing the state as their benevolent protector, alternative options are going to become increasingly more attractive. People in danger of “vibrant enrichment” will perhaps be the first to band together, but thoughtcriminals and those increasingly unable to make ends meet will also feel the tug of the männerbund as a means to achieve their ends. A dramatic collapse of some sort would certainly expedite this process, but a slow decay over time would also produce much the same results in the end.

Insofar as Neoreaction is concerned with understanding how political systems will evolve in the future, it would be a good start to begin asking the right questions about gangs and organized crime.


*Many thanks to New International Outlook for tipping me off to excellent reading material that was most helpful in formulating many of the ideas in this post.

UPDATE: With one hand he giveth, and the other he taketh away. Vulture of Critique likes what I have to say about gangs and disagrees with the theories of 4GW and 5GW that I am playing with here.


14 thoughts on “The Way of the Gang

  1. magus71 09/30/2014 / 10:45 AM

    Robert Kaplan surmises that we have reached a point in history in which warfare is indistinguishable from crime.

    • Legionnaire 09/30/2014 / 12:47 PM

      There seems to be some credence to that. Throw in John Schindler’s theory of “Special War” and the boundaries become even murkier. We seem to be living in interesting times indeed.

      • magus71 09/30/2014 / 3:08 PM

        I made the point on another blog, that since war may now take the form of advanced criminal activity, and that since many fear a “race war” or at least see one in the future, the current demographics of most gangs in America show that a race war has already ensued.

    • R. 09/30/2014 / 7:08 PM

      Robert Kaplan surmises that we have reached a point in history in which warfare is indistinguishable from crime.

      Sure, if you define ‘crime’ and ‘warfare’ so broadly as to make both terms essentially meaningless.

      What people ordinarily are outraged about is just failed crime. Violent gangsters are the equivalent of slow kids of the criminal world.

      (Also, gangs don’t wage war on states, unless the state is really weak. More profitable to co-opt state structures.

      • magus71 10/01/2014 / 12:15 AM

        “Also, gangs don’t wage war on states, unless the state is really weak. More profitable to co-opt state structures.”

        al-qaeda et al has done this in several countries. Running a state requires much more work than does blowing things up. They know this But AQ still fights against the state while maintaining criminal enterprise for cash. Same goes for drug cartels in Mexico and FARC in Columbia. They’re often war with the state, but only to maintain their existence and freedom of movement.

        • R. 10/01/2014 / 4:45 PM

          Such gangs are very rare. (and getting more so. FARC is pretty much gone, no?)

          Most successful gangs don’t even war with other gangs. Breaking Bad, despite being an entertaining drama series got everything backwards. Exporting meth to Czech Republic would be like trying to export oil to Saudi Arabia.

          A network of Vietnamese gangs has been producing tons of meth and weed yearly for the last couple of years. Mostly for export. They don’t even fight one another, or not in any way anyone notices. Germany has seen pervitin-related addictions explode ..

          It’s gotten so bad Czech Republic has invited Vietnamese law enforcement here for consultations and to help out..

  2. neovictorian23 09/30/2014 / 2:33 PM

    Thanks for your support in response to my comment problems; testing 1,2,3…

    • Legionnaire 09/30/2014 / 2:50 PM

      Yep. I see you. You’re showing up now.

      • Legionnaire 09/30/2014 / 2:53 PM

        How’s it going with comments on other blogs? Success? Or does it look like everyone with a blog is going to have to individually whitelist you?

  3. R. 09/30/2014 / 7:23 PM

    Gangs, which waned in power with the rise of the powerful, centralized nation-state, are ideal units for the coming age of conflict, and will return in prominence as the future plays out.

    As the future plays out, it’s more likely that various authoritarian solutions are going to be tried out in response to chaos.

    Surveillance technology and data mining coupled with disdain for privacy would make disposing of organized crime very easy.

    Especially once there are detailed digital records of most financial movements.

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