I have to put Book Club on hiatus. I’m beginning to dread writing about FM 3-24 — enough that it’s actually interfering with other writing I’d like to be doing. So, in the absence of sustained and vociferous objections, this project is going to be shelved for a while, where “a while” may be a very long time indeed. Below, I offer a brief explanation of my decision.
In my profession (coding, or programming, or software engineering, depending on your level of pretention) there is a type of creature known as an “architecture astronaut”. Architecture astronauts come in many flavors, but they’re all selling the same basic line of bull: They can reliably and consistently develop optimal systems based upon their ultra-sophisticated, all-encompassing, way-too-clever-for-the-room Model of the Way Things Are.
Architecture astronauts are congenitally unable to admit certain facts:
- A model than can in principle describe anything in practice describes nothing
- The art in anything lies in stressing the essential and discarding the inessential
- Complexity is easy; simplicity is hard
The part of the FM I’ve now run up against was written by the sociological equivalent(s) of (an) architecture astronaut(s). It attempts (roughly speaking) to sum up a model of human interaction over the course of 60 paragraphs, and it’s a bloody disaster.
3-32. Planners can generally group organizations into the following categories:
- Communicating organizations have the power to influence a population’s perceptions.
- Religious organizations regulate norms, restrain or empower activities, reaffirm worldviews, and provide social support. A religious organization differs from a religious group. A religious group is a general category, such as Christian; a religious organization is a specific community, such as the Episcopal Church.
- Economic organizations provide employment, help regulate and stabilize monetary flow, assist in development, and create social networks.
- Social organizations provide support to the population, create social networks, and can influence ideologies. Examples include schools, civil society groups, and sports teams.
Organizations may belong to more than one category. For instance, an influential religious organization may also be a communicating organization.
This is hopeless. It’s not that the model (and this is, naturally, only a fragment of it) is wrong (although … Episcopalians?), it’s that it’s so malleable as to be useless. The trick for the COIN commander surely lies in determining which organizations have relevant influence, why they do so, and how they can help or hinder him. A social model that says, essentially, “each man is connected to hundreds of others by thousands of threads” does nothing to pick out the handful of interesting links in any one particular theatre.
The FM seems to take a “model everything, and then you’ll have modeled the interesting bits” approach, and I know that can’t work. The FM is not without interest, but it appears unwilling to engage the question of how to separate the relevant from the irrelevant detail. Maybe it improves as it goes on, but I see no sign of that yet, and find my patience suddenly at an end.