2001 Conference (May 27-29)

Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Randall Whitaker

Conversations of Conflict:
Information Warfare as an Outcome of Being Human




The purpose of this paper is to draw on the praxis of current research to illuminate the intersection of second-order cybernetics, the essence of 'being human' (per Maturana), and the emerging 'third-wave' warform known as information warfare (IW). 'Warfare' - the pursuit of one's interests or goals through directed engagement with one or more others - can be conducted via various tactics in various domains of interaction. 'War' - the all-out prosecution of warfare - has historically been delineated as conflict among nations or non-national entities in the physical space. IW is warfare conducted via leverage of 'information', prosecuted by influencing the state(s) of data, data assets, and the people engaging them. Allusions to the infosphere's military importance date back to Sun Tzu. The 20th century demonstrated IW's criticality through psychological operations, propaganda, WWII codebreaking, Gulf War media management, and manipulation of Serbian networks during the Kosovo campaign.

The integration of the Internet into global life opens a new context for conflict - one in which IW takes precedence over traditional (physical) warfighting. This also means any of us may encounter warfare with an immediacy unknown previously. Disturbingly, we can characterize current events in many domains of activity (e.g., the business domain) as IW. Even more disturbing is the prospect of IW as the most 'human' (as opposed to humane) warform - a mode of adversarial interaction involving the very essence of our 'humanness'. The praxis of IW research mandates a coherent vantage on IW's operational context to support descriptive and explanatory analyses. Much IW literature concentrates on systems of 'language' (i.e., symbols and their vehicles), leading to a narrow focus on (e.g.) 'hacking'. This obscures the fact that the intended effects of IW relate to the humans engaging those language systems.

To properly account for these effects one must invoke second-order cybernetics, incorporating the observer into the equation. The observer must be addressed in terms of both her self-engagement (reflective cognition) and her coupling with other entities (human or technical).

To accomplish this requires acknowledging languaging (cf. Maturana, 1978, 1988) as the fundamental context of both IW descriptions and explanations. It is through languaging that (a) observation and the observer arise, and (b) linguistic interactions among observers are conducted. As such, languaging is the fundamental context for addressing both intra- and inter-observer phenomena. It is also the fundamental context for addressing our 'humanness', because "...language defines humanity." (Maturana, 1988b, 6.i.) We therefore find an intersection between the fundamental contexts for description / explanation for both 'being human' and information warfare. This recommends our community of interest as a population well-equipped to address the emergent (and prospectively dominant) mode of conflict for the coming decades.


(Abstracts Index)
The Author
(Home Page)