Departures Podcast with David Ucko, author of ‘The Insurgent’s Dilemma’

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In the past, when insurgencies challenged the power of the state, they did so from a position of occupying physical territory. But in today’s wildly unregulated post-truth environment and hyperconnected society, the space that they occupy is virtual – and most democracies are not well prepared to deal with these often violent threats to the hegemony of representative government.

Dr. David Ucko, a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, has recently published a fascinating new book addressing these issues titled, “The Insurgent’s Dilemma: A Struggle to Prevail.”

Joining Robert Amsterdam in this podcast discussion, Ucko explains how extremist groups have become increasingly successful at challenging the preexisting norms and agreements that societies have, often using clever humor and familiar tropes to “break down the memetic defenses” of their audience and get people to entertain anti-democratic messaging, among other toxic ideological positions.

“The image that my work on infiltrative insurgency conjures up is that of a Trojan horse,” said Ucko, drawing comparisons with political parties which have ties to armed wings. “You have a strictly anti-democratic party using the democratic openness of the state to achieve power in the government, but then they follow its anti-democratic agenda to dismantle the system from within.”

Amsterdam and Ucko further discuss the challenges of how democracies must attempt to balance the participation of parties which do not pose a threat to the system itself, how democracies can sustain the myth of a nation state while dealing with rampant Russia-sponsored social media campaigns, and how counter-insurgency now has to involve “deeply epistemological questions of trust in authority.”