Some Predictions

Let me take advantage of this bullhorn to broadcast some predictions
concerning what we will eventually learn about and from the suicide
crashes a little less than four days ago.

Students of human affairs can hope to make two different kinds of
predictions: unconditional predictions based on statistical
regularities, and if-then predictions based on causal regularities. In
the first category, demographers compare favorably to weather
forecasters when it comes to anticipating, over large populations, how
many children will be born tomorrow, how many people will be injured in
automobile accidents, and so on -- just so long as they remember which
day of the week and year tomorrow is, making appropriate adjustments for
weekly and seasonal cycles.

The second category brings us instantly onto controversial territory; at
issue is not just the validity of any particular causal connection but a
set of assumptions concerning the nature of social processes, causality,
and knowledge of both social processes and causality.

I write out predictions in the two categories not because I know the
answers better than anyone else, but for precisely the opposite reason.
Most of learn more from discovering that we were wrong, then inquiring
into how and why we went wrong, than from being right. I am hoping a) to
encourage amsoc colleagues to lay out their own contrary predictions, b)
to identify errors in my own knowledge and reasoning, c) thereby to
identify errors in the public discussion of what to do about terrorists
and d) perhaps to stimulate more creative and constructive thinking
about alternatives to dividing up the world into Us and Them as a
preliminary to dropping bombs on Them.


It will turn out that:

1. More than four suicide crews set off to seize airliners on Tuesday,
but only four succeeded in taking over their targets.

2. Participants in the effort were never, ever in their lives all in the
same place in the same time.

3. All were connected indirectly by networks of personal acquaintance,
but not all had ever met each other, or knowingly joined a single

4. Because of network logic, all were therefore connected to Osama bin
Laden and a number of other organizers or sponsors of attacks on western

5. But no single organization or single leader coordinated Tuesday's

6. Some participants in seizure of aircraft only learned what they were
supposed to do shortly before action began, and had little or no
information about other planned seizures of aircraft.

7. Instead of emerging from a single well coordinated plot, these
actions result in part from competition among clusters of committed
activists to prove their greater devotion and efficacy to the (vaguely
defined) cause of bringing down the enemy (likewise vaguely defined).


8. Bombing the presumed headquarters of terrorist leaders will a) shift
the balance of power within networks of activists and b) increase
incentives of unbombed activists to prove their mettle.

9. If the US, NATO, or the great powers insist that all countries choose
sides (thus reconstituting a new sort of Cold War), backing that
insistence with military and financial threats will increase incentives
of excluded powers to align themselves with dissidents inside countries
that have joined the US side, and of dissidents to accept aid from the

10. Most such alliances will form further alliances with merchants
handling illegally traded drugs, arms, diamonds, lumber, oil, sexual
services, and rubber.

11. In Russia, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, the Caucasus, Turkey, Sudan,
Nigeria, Serbia, Algeria, and a number of other religiously divided
countries, outside support for dissident Muslim forces will increase,
with increasing connection among Islamic oppositions across countries.

12. Bombing the presumed originator(s) of Tuesday's attacks and forcing
other countries to choose sides will therefore aggravate the very
conditions American leaders will declare they are preventing.

13. If so, democracy (defined as relatively broad and equal citizenship,
binding consultation of citizens, and protection from arbitrary actions
by governmental agents) will decline across the world.

Am I sure these dire predictions are correct? Of course not. I write
them out both to place myself on record and to encourage
counter-predicitons from better informed colleagues.


Charles Tilly
Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science, Columbia University
514 Fayerweather Hall, Mail Code 2552, New York 10027-7001, USA
telephone 212 854 2345, fax 212 854 2963, electronic