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ICG Risk Blog - [ The sovereign individual as target; the sovereign superindividual as Temporary Autonomous Zone ]

The sovereign individual as target; the sovereign superindividual as Temporary Autonomous Zone


History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up. [Voltaire]

A colleague, Michael Sheren, was recently profiled in A Growing Trend of Leaving America:

Talk to some of the successful American relocators around the world and the broad generalizations about them tend to hold up - though not so much as to overwhelm the huge variety of experience and achievement that distinguishes their lives. Michael Sheren, 45, who worked for Chemical Bank in New York in his early career, came to England in 1997 primarily to apply his background in leveraged buy-outs to the European market. Now working in the London office of Calyon Crédit Agricole, a French bank, he credits his American training and drive for giving him a leg up in his work. America's image abroad has suffered during the Bush years, he acknowledges, but he finds that Europeans still value the can-do spirit of Americans. "People equate America with success, even now," he says.

While business is what initially drew him to England, Sheren is now deeply attached to the British way of life. That includes everything from a generous government-backed system of social supports for all citizens to a mentality that is more comfortable with leisure. "I consider the quality of life here significantly better than what I would have over there," he says.

Sheren acquired British citizenship and has at times been tempted to abandon his American one, but he attaches relatively little importance to nationality. His closest friends are an international lot, and he greatly values the freedom of movement that comes with a European passport. "I feel more like a sovereign individual," he says, using the label coined by authors James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg in their book, The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age.

I replied with a mixture of humor and concern that goes beyond the economic aspect of the "sovereign individual":

When the US Air Force loadmaster at the airstrip or the US Navy chief petty officer on the evacuation quay asks your citizenship, the statement "US" and the passport will get you on and away to safety, all under US military force projection. I ask that you consider carefully their response when you announce "sovereign individual" and produce an EU passport... You won't get the courtesy of "Wait for the French," fairing no better than the poor benighted souls carrying UN refugee passports - which in my experience is a label that says, "Please exploit me after I step to the back of the line." In what may pass as a future Dunkirk, you are not going to get on the plane or on the boat. In such cases, sovereign individual and dead body may be indistinguishable.


I know the risks of bandying US credentials in certain places. By all means, use the EU document for genteel commerce, but keep the US document handy when the balloon goes up. [email]

Whenever I see an interest voiced in aspiring to be a sovereign individual while still acting under the protective umbrella of a sovereign state, even a declining one, I want to say, "Get a copy of Roberts' STAYING ALIVE: Safety and security guidelines for humanitarian volunteers in conflict areas. Read it cover to cover. You might just get through."

It is the mindset shift that I have in mind as much as the direct guidance. Roberts is a Sandhurst trained British Army parachutist that saw action in various conflict zones, then the operational security adviser for the International Red Cross and later its unit for promoting humanitarian law among various armed forces. "Staying Alive" is elegant, short, and should be read by anyone stepping off the beaten path. In conditions where nation states decline, the beaten path shrinks dramatically.

The economic sovereign individual as target, hostage and kidnap victim


I think it fair to say that in their third book, The Sovereign Individual, Davidson and Rees-Mogg did a reasonable job of drawing economic implications of the application of the microprocessor and internet revolution, what many now sum as the shift from an industrial to an information society. In what the authors call a "fourth stage of human society" that frees individuals while weakening governments (by reducing their ability to tax), they offer financial strategies for newly enabled sovereign individuals to move and protect their wealth.


Unfortunately the authors did a poor job in defining the military or defense strategies needed to keep the sovereigns from being robbed, kidnapped or killed. This despite the fact that Davidson and Rees-Mogg introduced the concept of megapolitics - loosely described as the fundamental forces affecting the way man and society work, that are the hidden drivers to current and future events - in their first book, Blood in the Streets, carrying it into their second, The Great Reckoning.


Megapolitics states that it is possible to determine a society's structure based upon its cost of violence; their term is the "logic of violence." When WMD are expensive and rare, empires form and enforce a semblance of peace. (Pax Romana, Pax España, Pax Britannica and Pax Americana) But when WMD are relatively inexpensive and increasingly common, states decline and the level of violence rises dramatically.


Every technology has its "glide slope to the desktop" (where the angle of descent indicates the decreasing cost threshold of acquisition over time) such that the technology's capacity will ultimately get to anyone's desktop, anywhere and for any purpose. John Robb was describing "open source" warfare whose development was paralleling open source software as early as 2004. (See also here and here as well as Charette.)


There is ample evidence of the proximity of the superempowered individual - and if there is one there will be many:

[A superempowered actor] must be able to initiate a destructive event, fundamentally with their own resources, that cascades systemically on a national, regional or global scale. They must be able to credibly, "declare war on the world".

Examples to date indicate that systemic violence is easy to organize, especially in mildly disturbed societies. Consider the sovereign individual class of Mexico who are now at risk of cyclic kidnapping that has reached epidemic proportions to the point that mere professionals and the modestly employed are at risk. Mexico has set up an anti-kidnap squad in the wake of the kidnapping-murder of a minor after ransom payments in the millions of dollars. Public anger is so great that the anti-death penalty state had heard calls for its reinstatement and has barely noticed the recent execution of a Mexican national in Texas. Economic prowess in Mexico and many other states are no longer enough to shield this class from predation. I am surprised that Davidson and Rees-Mogg could have missed the application of lowered cost of violence against their chosen class.


The sovereign superindividual as Temporary Autonomous Zone


Writing under the pseudonym, Hakim Bey, Peter Lamborn Wilson created the concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) based on research of what he called Pirate Utopias beyond the reach of established states. At least read the 'Pirate Utopias' section and scroll down to 'The Net and the Web'.


If economic sovereign individuals have a future, this analyst feels that most of them will join in temporary autonomous zones that may have characteristics of statelettes, more commonly called micropowers, and Hawala informal funds transfer (IFT) systems said to be "less expensive, swifter, more reliable, more convenient, and less bureaucratic than the formal financial sector."


Certain sovereign individuals such as George Soros will be wealthy enough to create their own TAZ, a superindividual, and may well attract lesser sovereigns to join. The key is enough power to stave off predation, i.e., either the sovereign is a superindividual, joins a superindividual or bands together with like sovereigns to form a defensive entity against likely aggressors. Zones formed by sovereigns may exhibit characteristics such as:

  • Areas beyond global nation state control:
    • Failed/collapsed states.
    • Chaotic areas.
    • Virtual sanctuaries (Internet Relay Chat (IRC), secure Web, secure Satellite transmission).
  • Staging grounds for operations against "controlled" areas.
  • Sanctuaries created as needed in areas without global/state order:
    • Fluid, rapidly shifting locations.
    • Locations resistant to interdiction.
    • Politically diverse, fuzzy tools needed to eliminate.
  • Military operations can inadvertently create a TAZ where none existed.
  • Long-term issue for nation states, aggravated by cooperative criminal, corrupt actors.

A TAZ may inhabit a micropower but will have to careful that its micropower does not overplay its hand as Georgia has now done.


Not all Zones are created equal


Just as with the original Medieval and Renaissance principalities, the new duchies that Davidson and Rees-Mogg predict to reemerge will not be created equal. They will both trade and war with one another. This analyst regards the longevity of a TAZ similar to that of an arms merchant: be as useful to many without being especially annoying to influential patrons or competitors (that can terminate life, steal treasure, or both). A TAZ will have to have to be adaptive and possess excellent means of surveillance and early warning of aggressors.


From Trends point towards Mexico's destabilization, 9/25/2007:

[Mexico bears the brunt of the] pan-national destabilization of the interlocked narcotics corridor stretching from Brazil to Columbia, the Isthmus and Mexico, the rise of Mexican cartels at the expense of the Columbians. The cartels have militarized and expanded to the point that they have formed Temporary Autonomous Zones outside control of the Mexican state; those autonomous zones effectively control significant stretches of the US-Mexican border. The cartels have both grown strong even as they have lost command & control over critical assassination and enforcement assets. Either singularly or in concert, the cartels and their enforcers have broached plans to assassinate US journalists on US soil that have reported critically on cartel activities. (Deaths among Mexican journalists already put Mexico among the big three (Iraq, Mexico and Columbia).)... Calderón has undertaken not just a war against the cartels but a war on a failing Mexican social infrastructure all the way down to the national sport of tax evasion.

The Mexican drug cartels form especially potent Temporary Autonomous Zones capable of attacking other TAZ assets as well as the Mexican state:

  • Hyperviolence at the low end.
  • Bribery and threats at the high end.
  • Expand control of local state police assets.
  • Cow and co-opt up the judicial chain.
  • Attack the military intelligence community.
  • Attack incorruptible senior judiciary.
  • Co-opt fractious political opponents.
  • Selective state disruption, damaging businesses.
  • Isolate, emasculate Calderón.
  • Failing that, assassinate him.

Tunable Just-in-time Disruption


Sovereign TAZs will have to insure systemic resilience against physical and internet attack. The Mexican cartels have now demonstrated what I call Tunable Just-in-time Disruption against state and corporate assets. Attacks have been made against Pemex (in which corporate interruptions are collateral damage) and municipal power grids. The cartels' technical capability for broad industrial sabotage at any level is clear.


Sovereigns will have to install their own systemic resilience against a broad spectrum of predators:

  • Building systemic resilience must become a priority.
  • Virtually all commercial systems (any type, any scale) are designed for commercial efficiency, not security.
  • Resilience to systemic attacks requires redundancies or "circuit breakers" that increase adaptive capacity and automate reactivation.
  • Critical infrastructure industries are increasingly private-sector institutions. (Who will pay, and how, especially when these industrial assets are under stress?)
  • Resilience will be expensive and disruptive, so states will not do it until it is too late. Sovereigns may have other ideas.

If the state is a descendent institution as Davidson and Rees-Mogg believe it to be - and certainly there are indicators (and here) that point to its possibility - sovereigns will have to transition a disrupted state environment in which states will find it increasingly difficult to:

  • Reestablish order and functionality.
  • Maintain financial viability.
  • Deliver critical services to their citizens.
  • Control their borders and economy.
  • Maintain a monopoly on violence.

Roberts' STAYING ALIVE sounds more useful by the moment.


Mexico launches anti-kidnap squad

BBC News

Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, 12 August 2008 10:35 UK


Georgia reports new air attacks near capital



Aug 8, 2008


Mexico president wants tougher punishments for kidnappers

Felipe Calderon urges Congress to act on his proposal after a 14-year-old abductee was found dead.

By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 8, 2008


Medellin execution draws little public protest in Mexico

La Plaza

Aug 7, 2008 9:20:44 AM


Crime-weary Mexico barely focuses on US execution


Associated Press

Aug. 6, 2008, 12:27PM


A Growing Trend of Leaving America

By some estimates 3 million citizens become expatriates a year, but most not for political reasons

By Jay Tolson

US News and World Report

Posted July 28, 2008


Not shocked but stressed

David Steven

Global Dashboard

March 15, 2008


The resilience agenda

David Steven

Global Dashboard

February 10, 2008


Open-Source Warfare

How do you defend a country against small stateless bands of terrorists?

Jim Henley

Reason Online

February 2008 Print Edition


A mild rebuttal to John Robb's open source warfare

Professors Sam and Sydney Liles

Selil Blog

November 24, 2007 (posted by: sam)



John Robb

Global Guerrillas

19 November 2007


Open-Source Warfare

By Robert N. Charette


First Published November 2007




July 27, 2007


Georgia: Little Engine that Can?

by Chirol

Coming Anarchy

Posted on 14 Oct 06


More on Micropowers

John Robb

John Robb's Weblog

October 12, 2006


Becoming a Micropower

by Chirol

Coming Anarchy

Posted on 12 Oct 06


JOURNAL: Can Georgia become a MicroPower?

John Robb

Global Guerrillas

07 October 2006


Megaplayers Vs. Micropowers

By Moisés Naím

Foreign Policy

July/August 2006



John Robb

Global Guerrillas

11 February 2006


The Open-Source War


Op-Ed Contributor

October 15, 2005



JOURNAL: The Haditha TAZ

John Robb

Global Guerrillas

22 August 2005


Number Crunchers

James Wolcott

James Wolcott's Blog

July 11, 2005, 12:30 PM



John Robb

Global Guerrillas

08 July 2005


STAYING ALIVE: Safety and security guidelines for humanitarian volunteers in conflict areas

David Lloyd Roberts

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

1999, Revised and updated 2005



John Robb

Global Guerrillas

08 November 2004



John Robb

Global Guerrillas

24 September 2004



John Robb

Global Guerrillas

20 August 2004



John Robb

Global Guerrillas

24 May 2004


The Hawala System

Mohammed El-Qorchi

Senior Economist, Monetary and Exchange Affairs Department, IMF

Source: Finance and Development, December 2002, Volume 39, Number 4


A Second Look at the Cathedral and the Bazaar

Nikolai Bezroukov

First Monday

Paper received 21 November 1999; revision received 22 November 1999; accepted for publication 22 November 1999; revision received 29 November 1999; revision received 6 December 1999; revision received 9 December 1999


The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Eric Steven Raymond

Thyrsus Enterprises

This is version 3.0




The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age

by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg

ISBN-10: 0684810077



The Argument for Deflation

This article is a review of The Great Reckoning, by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg, Summit Books, 1991, 473 pp. plus




Vol. LIX No. 5

March 2, 1992

Original scrolled off

HTML Mirror


The Great Reckoning: Protecting Yourself in the Coming Depression

by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg

Summit Books

ISBN-10: 0671885286

1991, revised 1993


Blood in the Streets: Investment Profits in a World Gone Mad

by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg

Summit Books

ISBN-10: 067162735X



T. A. Z.

The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism

By Hakim Bey


1985, 1991



Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Risk Containment and Pricing Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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