Cultural Systems and Conflicts

Prominent cultural anthropologist Leslie A. White’s posthumously published book, The Concept of Cultural Systems (1975), compared to his other works, flies below the radar in academic and laymen circles.  The first time I came across this publication, nearly twenty years ago, my impression was exactly the same as I hold today.  The book is an excellent primer for understanding how and why humans as carriers of culture participate in cultural systems and participate in the process of cultural evolution. Understanding

Beware of SMEs

At the beginning of every manufactured crisis, omnipresent Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) return from dormancy and begin pontificating on regional and cultural geography of an area or country in crisis.  When a crisis ends, the SMEs return to dormancy and wait for their next opportunity.  SMEs that an average person may notice in media belong to one of the following groups.  In the first group are genuine SMEs, a minority with a consistent record of measurable abilities and expertise.  In

Aspects of Berlin’s Dysfunctionality

Geography Berlin is a bureaucratic nightmare and, as The Economist magazine reported, a city that is dysfunctional on many different levels.  In debt for nearly 60 billion Euros, Berlin drains more from the national account than it contributes, which is unusual in Europe where national capitals are usually the main economic drivers.  In this mess, a major contributor to the dysfunctional reality of Berlin’s existence—its cultural geography—deserves attention. Geographic factors have played an instrumental role in Berlin’s fate during the

Space, Cultural Region, Migrants

Some European Union members’ decision to minimize acceptance of asylum seekers, migrants, and fellow travelers has generated many heated discussions.  The political leaders and populace of countries in question, from Poland to Hungary, face labels of bigotry and xenophobia for their unwillingness to allow “progress and change.”  If this is correct, then we first need to define bigotry, xenophobia, articulate what is change, and evaluate how it is beneficial for this geographic region. According to the Cambridge Dictionary a bigot

Geography from the Ringside of Conflict

Global affairs are shaped by two opposite stances in attempts to control space, i.e., regions and countries.  The first one employs offensive actions in order to dominate.  The second counters with defense. Where and when two opponents meet, a defining moment occurs that leads to a triumph of the side better prepared to exploit its opponent’s weaknesses.  Such conflict is philosophical as much as physical, because a single side cannot be aggressive and defensive at the same time.  It must

Geographic Analysis and Military Intelligence’s Peter Principle

Anecdotal Evidence A friend of mine from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) shared an experience from a Department of Defense (DoD) pre-deployment training into a warzone.  The topic of the hour was reading maps and understanding basic elements of geography.  An instructor arrived, started the class, pulled out a map, and began instruction with “This blue color you see on this map indicates water.” The rest of the hour continued in an equally pedestrian manner with a good number

Generals and Majors in Kabul City

A few mornings ago, I slowly sipped my coffee and browsed the news when a headline caught my eye: US focusing Anti-Taliban effort inside Kabul.  My first reaction was “Oh, this is going to be good,” which an opening paragraph confirmed: “The Afghan capital is now the main focus of the anti-Taliban fight, with U.S. special forces conducting raids in the sprawling city and additional American military advisers arriving to help beleaguered local police, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan

Geography of Conflict at a Micro Scale – Mike Pence’s Korean Odyssey

Interaction displayed at the Winter Olympics’ luncheon for peace—organized by the President of the Republic of Korea—and the American Vice-President’s actions have made me recall my recent comments in Scale, Magnitude and Power in Geography of Conflict.  Of particular importance are the following passages: ———- When we observe how contemporary humans utilize space, and what kind of conflicts stem from their behavior, it helps us to understand why countries behave in their particular ways.  Beware, however, that countries are concepts

Reflections on Landscapes of Fear and Love

Humans are surrounded by cultural landscapes, yet we seldom question their meaning and purpose.  We also dedicate little time to considering which cultural traits make people navigate through landscapes, particularly why they love and/or fear them. Definitions In Cultural Landscape and Geography of Conflict, I described an importance of landscape: “Cultural landscape is a tangible imprint of human activity. As all human actions and reactions occur in space (geography) and time (history) the landscape can record their manifestations. In regard

Spatial Masterpiece of a Political Prison’s Cell

Prison cells share almost-universal physical characteristics: four walls, a door, a bed to sleep, a place to relieve oneself, and seldom a source of natural light.  Their specific use, however, depends on a cultural context; the four walls of a prison cell—and by extension the prison’s perimeter walls, too—can transform a purely physical imprisonment into something much different. This is particularly evident in prisons that house political prisoners. Two types of prisoners, common criminals and those incarcerated for political reasons,

Scale, Magnitude, and Power in Geography of Conflict

Every human action creates a certain degree of spatial impact.  Although their essential causes can be similar, outcomes of some actions are barely noticeable, whereas others can transform the course of humanity.  Conflict between rowdy Walmart shoppers on Black Friday has no different cause than wars between two or more countries—the actors fight for control over space, power, and resources.  What makes a difference between these two types of conflicts is their scale and magnitude of outcome. A midnight brawl

The Secret Team’s Methodology and Cultural Geographic Legacy

All conflicts in the world—whether local, regional, or global in scale—cannot be devoid of three fundamental components.  The first two are space (geography) and time (history).  The third aspect is culture; all human actions and reactions that occur within a defined space and time.  When identical methodology is applied to identical problems even in different space and time, outcomes can be similar if not identical.  In the context of origins and evolution of conflicts, their relation to each other, we

Cultural Geographic Simplicity and Complexity of Europe

One of the more prominent intellectual fallacies is outsiders’ skewed perception of Europe as a region of cultural geographic simplicity.  Such a view stems from a superficial understanding of its complexity.  It is based primarily upon comparisons between Europe and seemingly more complex regions in Africa and Asia.  After all, explorers and colonizers did not venture towards distant and unexplored shores, deserts, and rainforests of Europe; their exploration of the world originated here and spread outward. For the modern day

Adverse Effects of the Adjective “Cold,” the Mental Valium for Geopolitical Anxiety

“The new Cold War is coming,” increasingly echoes in the American media’s editorials, talk show discussions, and comment sections on the Internet.  Closer attention reveals that the emphasis is on “Cold,” rather than “War,” as if the word war has lost its traditional true meaning. Perhaps it has, because the residents of the United States are in a perpetual state of war with something.  Terrorism, drugs, cancer, childhood obesity, illiteracy, poverty, diabetes, racism, social media, and insurance scams are just

Repercussions from Sidelining Geography in the American Cultural System

“Americans have to learn geography, because they are living now in a world in which they’re no longer isolated…and they simply will not make—will not be able to make—sense out of what they read in their newspapers and about the decisions their government makes unless they understand some historical and above all, geographical, relationships.”    Henry Kissinger American educational, corporate, and governmental spheres suffer from a well-documented spatial paradox.  Our interaction with the world has never been more complex, while our

American Military and Intel, Planning and Operations; Knowledge of Post-Soviet and Russian Cultural Geography—Priceless

Paper Value Russian affairs specialists were among the first people in the Intelligence Community’s (IC) to experience an impact of post-9/11 environmental change. It began immediately in the fall of 2001. Almost overnight their expertise became obsolete.  They became dinosaurs with resumes whose value was equal to that of the paper they were printed on.  Hardly anyone in Washington D.C. area was hiring people with regional expertise in the post-Soviet geographic realm.  Many, however, were opening an inordinate amount of

Humanitarian Intervention, Personification of Evil, Geography of Conflict

Inte(rve)ntions and Outcomes Conquest is conquest, not a humanitarian intervention with bullets.  People are aware of what it means and how it looks.  It does not have to be masqueraded by various idioms.  Historically, starting wars and hurting people just because they are (perceived) different from “us” was perfectly acceptable.  It was and still is a method of collective self-preservation via expansion of power upon others.  This cultural trait is as old as humans; the moral principles are seldom evoked

Tears-Soaked Afghan Roads: Reconstruction Potholes and Utter Incompetence

One way or another, all of the rapidly-dilapidating roads in Afghanistan lead to their node, downtown Kabul City.  They follow the money trail of operational incompetence and cultural ignorance.  This is why the title of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) report, Afghanistan’s Road Infrastructure: Sustainment Challenges and Lack of Repairs Put U.S. Investment at Risk, did not surprise me at all. Figure 1. Building bridges that work; compacted trash put to good use as a neighborhood bridge.

Geographic Illusions and Delusions in Contemporary Croatia

“Historical claims—and, in the context of central and eastern Europe, this means claims based upon medieval and feudal pretensions—have no relevance to the twentieth century.  It is one of the great tragedies of Europe that peoples of central and eastern Europe, with long historical memories and little historical sense, cling so obstinately to these illusions of vanished grandeur.”   Norman J. Pounds (geographer) The Scope of Geographic Imagination In cultural geographic terms, the “railroad tracks” in the Balkans run north to

Differing Landscapes of Conflict Viewed from Low Earth Orbit

With the advent of commercial satellite imagery and freely available tools to use it, we can now analyze landscapes with a clarity previously reserved for spy agencies.  Google Maps/Earth has been a rather useful option not only for armchair geographers, but also for those of us who prefer doing field work.  To laymen, this tool allows an unprecedented access to Earth’s exploration from above. In the context of the geography of conflict, to be able to “visit”—via satellite imagery—regions and

Generational (?) Change and the Continuum of Geography of Conflict

Almost daily we hear statements about generational differences as if “generations” actually exist as facts, social and behavioral reality. They do not, because people are born every day.  Individuals are facts and generations are abstract concepts created by someone else—for their own beneficial purpose—to arbitrarily bind many individuals together.  This is similar to a relationship between forests (concept) and trees (facts).  Everyone can see where trees grow.  Yet, most of us could not agree on where to demarcate the boundaries

The Landscape of Fear, Paranoia, and Galvanization of Masses

“Every American should be alarmed by Russia’s attacks on our nation.  There is no national security interest more vital to the United States of America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference.  That is why Congress must set partisanship aside, follow the facts, and work together to devise comprehensive solutions to deter, defend against, and, when necessary, respond to foreign cyberattacks.”  (John McCain, U.S. Senator, January 5th, 2017) Definition of paranoia (Merriam-Webster): A psychosis characterization

Holiday Season Anniversaries: Dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991)

“Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet ap­pear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man’s task.” Epictetus Above the Fold A quarter century has passed since the Soviet Union, an “Evil Empire” (Reagan 1983), dissolved.  Gone were the fears of mutual nuclear

Fight for Light in Kabul City and National Implications

A good portion of Americans’ geographic expertise about Afghanistan, particularly about Kabul City, resembles the attitude of the American movie goers. Entertainment and box office value trumps artistic content, boredom proportionally increases with absence of special effects, subtitles are the ultimate inconvenience, and the story must fit the viewers’ mental framework—often based on short memory—to be appreciated. Official policymaking stems from such an environment, inconceivable to many of us that the rest of the world does not operate along the

The Flagellants and the Black Death: Intelligence Community’s Zeal for Human Geography

Definition and Application Geography, and for that matter one of its sub-disciplines, human geography, is not a scientific discipline defined on the basis of the content of analysis. Geography—human and physical—is a scientific discipline defined on the basis of the method of (spatial) analysis. What separates geographers, a small group within the Intelligence Community (IC), and their tradecraft from others is how they study and analyze topics and regions, not what they study. The effectiveness of a skilled geographer correlates

Cultural Landscape and Geography of Conflict

“What is Where, Why There, and Why Care?” Cultural landscape is a tangible imprint of human activity. As all human actions and reactions occur in space (geography) and time (history) the landscape can record their manifestations. In regard to conflicts, cultural landscape analysis—looking at land and people—allows us to better understand why people do what they do, comprehend their problems, and find answers and solutions. Many types of conflicts exist in the world (can you think of any affecting you