Adam L. Silverman PhD
Carl O asked if an entire society could go insane. In many ways what he’s asking about and describing is what Sutherland, one of the fathers of modern criminology, described as differential social organization. For instance, poor neighborhoods are not disorganized or mal-organized, rather they are organized in line with the structural conditions found there: differentially organized. This then drives the creation of a set of behavioral drivers (values) that are rooted in the social, political, economic, religious, and physical differences in characteristics. All together they create the conditions for the development of values that are specific to that neighborhood. Once this occurs the normal process of social learning takes over.
This is actually a very good question given the events in Egypt and Tunisia, and a number of other places of interest, over the past several weeks. One of the real questions that Egyptians and Tunisians will face, that the US has faced in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that will be faced in other places, is how does a society, and its component social elements, make the transition from tyranny and despotism to freedom and liberty. Egyptians, like the presumed denizens of the poor neighborhood I referenced above, have been living in a society that has been socially, politically, economically, religiously, and physically distorted by over forty years of military authoritarianism. Egyptians are socialized and normalized to this structural and behavioral reality. And while they certainly have an understanding and appreciation of what freedom and liberty are or could be (depending on their own life experiences of travel, study abroad, ex-patriotism, etc), as Egyptians in Egypt, many, if not most given the youth bulge, have lived only under this set of structural and ideational conditions. Whatever happens in Egypt over the next several months in terms of who will stay in power or come to power it will be bound within the context of a population that has been treated and ruled despotically and tyrannically. When they do finally break free and set up new systems and institutions and remake their societies, despotically treated populations often set up new tyrannies or take a long time to exorcise the despotic, tyrannical, and authoritarian impulses from their structures, institutions, norms, and values.
When we use the term reconstruction, whether in a post Mubarak Egypt, a post US draw down Iraq, or in Afghanistan we have to keep in mind that it is the social and societal reconstruction that is really the hard work. It is not so much winning the hearts and minds of the local populations, to turn the COIN phrase, but rather to educate, normalize, and tether the societal elements to new and hopefully less despotic structures and understandings of society. This takes a lot of hard work and a lot of time. This is NOT about victim blaming, but recognizing that the victims of tyranny and despotism, as well as those who have engaged in it but have to be reconciled to the new state of society, have a lot of hard and difficult work to do. The success or failure of liberation movements, revolutions, even our 3rd party population centric COIN efforts is really going to hinge on how serious the social reconciliation efforts are combined with how resilient the tyrannical and despotic structural and ideational vestiges are.
 Adam L. Silverman is the Culture an Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College. The views expressed here are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of the US Army War College or the US Army.