Friday, 26 August 2011

The "Global War on Terror" is really "The Global War on Identifying/Catching Nut-Jobs'

A reply of mine to a comment on an Atlantic article brought to mind by the always-switched-on John Glyde of Mollymook, NSW, Australia on the subject of how people who lean left are just as prone to dogmatic thinking/rhetoric as those who lean right.  Here's my comment (this was originally posted on my JustOneCynicsOpinion blog on May 14, 2011):
To your point about analyzing human motivations vs. cause and effect, you raise the most telling point about human nature in all of these debates, Omaryak, the underlying barrier to rational, impartial analysis being that we are social creatures with 'unnecessarily' large capacity brains (an 'accident' of evolution). That brain power leads us to be storytellers by nature and to imbue everything we experience or hear about with meaning. That fabricated 'meaning' is most often coloured by our predilections: some people's personalities make them lean towards loving tragedies, others to upbeat romantic story lines (happily ever after). Once some individuals are 'dyed in the wool' tragedy-lovers, everything becomes part of that tragic story -- conspiracies, big/small government, etc. Oliver Stone filters world news through his now-immutable predilections and cannot be objective. Christopher Hitchens, as he alludes to in his aside about his kids' school march, does as well.

Given the enormous complexity of geo-politics, most people look for simple stories in order to have some kind of 'handle' on why things happen. Some simple-minded people in the developing world (and developed world!) hang their hats on the notion that imperialist governments are responsible for propping up the dictators of their home country. They see mass-murder of citizens in the 'imperialist' country, who are as innocent of collusion as they themselves are, as being the only way to bring attention to their nation's plight. (Yes, re-read that last line and run it by some of these simpletons and they'll fist-pump enthusiastically while his 'al Queda' neighbour is busy strapping on a suicide vest to blow up civilians in his local market, the irony lost on both of them.)

My point? "Clouded by emotion" and "rhetoric of evil". Even now, after so much time has passed, after bin Laden has finally been found and killed, our predilections continue to drive us to want to legitimize bin Laden's "cause" as having a valid political platform, yet he was simply a very wealthy psychopath who had the means and motivations to latch onto a regional 'cause celebre' and leverage it to recruit suicide soldiers (each of whom was similarly, though not identically, disturbed). While there are innumerable 'causes' out there that lead to 'effects', in general the trigger-pullers are not legitimate banner-holders (Timothy McVeigh, the Shoe-Bomber, etc.), they're just murder-loving nut-jobs. "Evil" is not the possession of anything, as most people believe quite passionately, it is just the absence of both innate human empathy and our group 'socialized empathy'.

If we had a global "War on Nut-Jobs" we'd all be a lot safer from the Ghaddafi's and Kim Jong Il's, as well as the Una Bombers, McVeigh's and Waco's, let alone the bin Laden's. More in my post from September 2009 here: (Click to read post)
But my convictions wouldn't sit well with military and intelligence type's huge egos, would it? They'd go from being "Geo-Political Spy Lords" to "Nut-Job Identifiers/Catchers". No real romance/thriller story line elements in that!

The real reason that political forces around the world will never name the on-going battle between what is good for the masses versus the small, but exceedingly dangerous percentage of our human population who are murder-loving nut-jobs and megalomaniacs, is that there's not much political capital/leverage in admitting that these people have zero legitimate political motivation, that their motivations are merely to satisfy a deep-seated urge to take lives, or to be all-powerful, or both.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Britain's PM Cites "Moral Collapse" Amongst Youth for the Flash Mobs

I have to say that I was originally ticked off that some people were blaming the riots perpetrated by youngsters in the UK as some kind of 'moral collapse' that is taking over British society, but then Britain's PM, David Cameron, had this to say in a speech to his constituents yesterday via CNN:
  • (There has been a) slow-motion moral collapse ... in parts of our country.
  • Irresponsibility. 
  • Selfishness. 
  • Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. 
  • Children without fathers. 
  • Schools without discipline. 
  • Reward without effort. 
  • Crime without punishment. 
  • Rights without responsibilities. 
  • Communities without control.
  • He promised that the government will "review every aspect of our work to mend our broken society."
Indeed.  What the Brits are doing at the moment is throwing all the participants they can round up into jail, and more power to them.  That's what their society's laws demand and it's exactly what needs to be done with any law breakers, swiftly and consistently, along with the general populace coming out both vocally to condemn the kids' actions and onto the streets in significant enough numbers to literally stand in the way of wanton criminality.

But back to the roots of the mayhem.  While I do not think that any of it is a result of British society doing the wrong thing, or politicians and civic leaders going awry with their policies, all of the things that Cameron lists above can be said today for most developed countries' youth (and most of the developing countries' youth as well).  What I'm getting at is that, while the rabid conspiracy theorists (everyone loves a good story!) will point to politics as a cause, I am a strong believer in Occam's Razor, that we should stick with the most simple explanation that mirrors the basics of human nature in individual behaviour before we start adding in complex explanations about society as a whole. 

Something to consider: my "Gen X" generation grew up 'bottle-fed' on WWII movies.  My early years were spent glued to the TV watching MASH, a series about the horrors of injuries in the Korean War that left only humour as a defence mechanism and "Hogan's Heroes",  a similarly funny take on life in a WWII POW camp (it was a time of healing and 'moving on').  I knew intimately about the Vietnam War as the protests played out during my youth and the casualties, the returning vets, were featured in so many movies and shows.  I heard first hand stories from my family elders and their friends about the suffering and death during WWII.

Want to know what the exposure of most of this new teenage generation has been to real life human suffering?  (They do not watch CNN.)  What these boys have been doing since they were old enough to get access to their older brother's (or Gen X dad's) video game device is play role-playing games like Grand Theft Auto, which involves winning points for criminal behaviour, and Call of Duty, which involves blowing up, shooting, knifing, etc. 'the faceless enemy'.  That's it.  No stories from their great-grandfather of losing your best friend to a machine gun while running through a field, just 100% virtual death and destruction.

And these boys are addicted to these games, spending endless hours playing them without leaving the couch, the teenage reward centres of their brains lighting up far more strongly, research has lately proven, than they will a few years later.  If mom and dad do not intervene, they will stop going to school and will even stop sleeping to play the games endlessly.  The thrill they get is just too much to resist!

Now having read that last two paragraphs, go back and re-read Cameron's list above.  To this generation of boys (and a few girls) the prospect of finally getting out and, in real life, participating in Grand Theft Auto actions and Call of Duty mayhem MUST be like offering a methadone-addict his first hit of real heroin -- finally the real thing and far too strong a temptation to resist.  Add to this the anonymity of a crowd, BlackBerry's untraceable PIN messaging (apparently BB has become the smartphone of choice for those in the drug trade, or who aspire to be like the thugs in the drug trade in England's poorer areas), and a brain that has not yet developed the ability to understand the long-term consequences of short-term thrills, and you will get rampaging 'flash mobs'. 

An Important Caveat

What I believe it is important to remind ourselves of is that every group needs a leader.  Those who 'step up' to lead in a riot tend to be older and/or socio- or psychopathic.  These 'leaders' are NOT indicative of the mob following them any more than the one car driver who murdered three young men in the Brighton riot last week by running them over was a fair representative of the individuals in the crowd.  When an emotionally/psychologically unstable individual gets 'empowered' by a mob, the impulses they will act upon are far darker and lacking in normal human empathy than the other 99% of the group.  Lumping these whack-jobs in with the rest and painting them all as murdering thugs is unfair.

The reality is that if I'd been born in the 90's and found myself in that group, I can imagine I would have participated in the looting and rabble-rousing, but I would never have stooped to hurting people, it is just not in my core make-up.  I do know there were a few lads in my neighbourhood who could have taken things further, however, and it is for the sake of everyone in our society that this new 'flash mob' phenomenon, spurred by a sense of entitlement, a lack of real-life experience with true human suffering, new smartphone technology and social media, must be brought under control whatever the cost.  These kids today grow up OUTSIDE their parents (dual or single) control -- their world integrates influences from people and groups that no kids in the past had access or exposure to.  We need to guide them in new and as yet untried ways, and soon.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

When Twitter/Facebook-Empowered "Flash Mobs" Turn Violent

"What Sparked the London Riots?" shouts CNN this morning.  

Opportunity and the tools to organize some mayhem, that's all.

When "The Media" does nothing but report without offering real human insights, they leave the door open for more carnage by leaving the impression that there is something deeply dark and mysterious taking place among average folks.  Nope, it's just a bunch of young people 'having fun'.  And "The Media" does it all the time:
  • "The People of Tottenham Take to the Streets and Riot in Anger over..."
  • "Vancouverites Turn to Violence in Rage Over Hockey Loss"
  • "Muslims Worldwide Resort to Jihad in Response to..."
  • "Torontonians Loot Shops in G8 Protest Against Globalisation"
When "The Media", a field that employs just as many people of average to low intelligence as any other, lumps everyone in an area or culture or religion together in a headline or article together following an incident of one kind or other, stereotypes are not just perpetuated or reinforced, they are actually created in the minds of many.

Was I the only one watching YouTube videos of hundreds of people 'taking over' a London train station for a 'spontaneous' dance performance and feeling vaguely anxious?  I mean, if those well-meaning folks could do that...

I was a teen once.  I was a young man in my early 20's.  Had I been handed a device back then that I could carry in my pocket that would buzz and light up with an invitation to every young person within 50 kilometres to gather together in an anonymous mob downtown and either dance in synchrony, OR wreck havoc on stores and the vehicles of adults I didn't know, I have to be honest, I'd have leapt onto my bike or on the bus and, typing excitedly to every similarly-aged person I knew, I'd have invited them all to join in.  Why?  I don't know, it would just have seemed far too much 'fun' (read: 'illicit', 'adrenaline-inducing', 'social' and 'adult') for me not to. 

As so many clever people have hastened to point out, the current rioting in the UK is NOT about the police shooting a black man.  Yes, like the G8 protests in Toronto last summer, a specific or obscure 'cause celebre' gives these young males (and a few females) a cover story for letting their lack of ability to assess actions with long-term consequences and their raging hormones run wild in the streets as anonymous members of a crowd, but it is NOT about the cause, it's about feeling empowered to do something 'wild and crazy' without retribution.  It started, ironically, with "flash mobs" gathering in public areas to dance, it evolved into some ne'r-do-wells seizing upon the same tools to engage in criminal action under the cover of a 'cause celebre".

Much has been made of the power of these new technologies to do good, to incite change in repressive dictatorships in the Middle East, to give average people a voice in 'just saying no' to 'push marketing', but what we're seeing now is how a simple thing like an instantaneous, free, local and global news service like Twitter, or Facebook status updates can wreck havoc.  What is not being


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