of us, myself included, have the feeling that we want to do
something, and, in this regard, several members of the Edge
community have suggested a discussion on relevant topics.
Rees mentioned that "The pessimism that underlies my
proposed 'Final century' book is of course likely now to become
more widely shared. But what terrifies me most is that, in
years to come, biological advances will offer new 'weapons'
that could cause world-wide epidemics, etc; moreover such
catastrophes could be caused by a single individual. Not even
an organised "cell"or network of terrorists is required
just a single fanatic, or a wierdo with the mindset
of those who design computer viruses (or even someone who
is merely incompetent rather than malign) and there
seems no realistic chance of effectively combating these growing
Davies wrote "It occurred to me that an Edge discussion
of technological solutions to the problem of aircraft hijackings
may be timely. I am forwarding my own modest contribution
to this topic in the form of some recent correspondence with
a web news column devoted to cosmic impacts and other natural
disasters.....Regarding technological solutions to aircraft
hijackings, there is a simple solution. Aircraft are perfectly
capable of being landed safely entirely by computer, a provision
that is occasionally used in poor weather conditions. It would
be an easy matter to pre-programme airliners with default
instructions to fly to a designated airport in event of an
on-board emergency. These instructions could be made irreversible
from within the aircraft, and deactivated only by a coded
instruction from Air Traffic Control. If these measures were
taken, and widely known, it is almost certain that they would
never be invoked. Any residual risk to passengers from the
measures would be far less than the risk from further hijackings."
Dawkins forwarded the piece he wrote for The Guardian
last week "Religion's Misguided Missiles."
In it, he suggests that research conducted by the psychologist
BF Skinner during the 2nd World War on pigeon guided missiles,
might shed light on last week's terrorist acts and why the
hijackers could be considered human guidance system, which,
unlike the pigeon version, ... "knows that a successful
mission culminates in its own destruction." [Click
here for the Guardian article.]
The ever-counterintuitive Kevin Kelly, during a telephone
conversation, explained to me his idea that this is not a
hi-tech war at all but that the entire operation was low-tech
(plastic knives, box cutters, etc.). No spy satellites for
these guys, and no possibility than an $80 billion expenditure
on a star wars defense would have had any deterrent effect
wrote the following to the list: "I believe that the
Edge community can mount a serious conversation about
the catastrophic events of the past week that might do some
good. Within the community is invaluable expertise in many
pertinent areas, not to mention the intelligence that the
"Edgies" can bring to the subjects. I am
interested "hard-edge" comments, derived from empirical results
or experience specific to the expertise of the participant.
Edge is not the proper venue for people to vent their
justified rage at the acts of terrorism, displeasure with
the administration, U.S. Mid-East policies, etc. But it is
the right venue for an informed, intelligent commentary."
"So how about a new Edge question: WHAT NOW?"
[Editorial: 20 September 2001 Volume 413
Issue no 6853, p 235.]
against terrorism, engaging with Islamic science
week's attacks in New York and Washington were an offence
against fundamental values that merits a well-targeted response,
helped by science. But enhanced contacts with Islamic colleagues
should also be pursued.
As Nature goes to press, the world is wondering how
President George W. Bush, given extra powers by Congress and
significant support by other nations, will respond to the
barbaric killings of thousands in the United States. The impact
on the scientific community has already begun to make itself
felt (see page 237). Leaders of the scientific community around
the world have expressed their horror and sympathy: see http://www.nationalacademies.org.
Science itself will play a critical role in the identification
of the victims and in the unprecedented intelligence and military
steps that the United States and others will now take to prevent
such attacks in the future (see page 238). Many of the finest
scientists and engineers will be called upon to channel their
expertise into the defence of their countries against repetitions
of last week's atrocity, and against its perpetrators and
their defenders in every corner of the globe.
Appropriately, given last week's offence against fundamental
values, most are likely to respond in full measure. A previous
generation of scientists quietly helped to assure victory
for the Allies in the Second World War, through the development
of radar, code-breaking algorithms, and the Manhattan Project
to develop the atomic bomb (the last of which, as things turned
out, had the least strategic significance of the three in
that conflict). This time, the challenges lie in security
innovations and counter-terrorism, intelligence gathering,
and enhancing an already large military advantage.
But scientists, and others engaged with science, can do
more. Last week's terrible events are utterly removed from
normal relations between countries and peoples. But they are
not divorced from underlying political and social forces that
also affect those relations. Perhaps the least to be expected
of those in a position to make a difference is some reflection
on the roles of science in the cultures and societies caught
up in this conflict. How might contacts between scientists
and between scientific organizations, of a sort that proved
valuable during the cold war, play a constructive role in
long term relations?
With thousands of dead still to be identified and put to rest,
engagement of any sort will be the last thing on many people's
minds. But others, deeply affected by the conflict, may feel
that not to explore it could be seen as a minor victory for
Last week's terrorist violence, after all, was not the expression
of a clash of civilizations: many Islamic scholars and leaders
have emphasized that the murder of the innocent is as offensive
to their beliefs as to anyone else's. Their societies should
not stand condemned because of extremists who disagree.
Although there could be said to be a tide of Islamic activism
in the Arabic world and in Asia, there is no uniformity about
it. There is a common aspect, according to knowledgeable commentators,
in which resurgent Islam appears to be giving a sense of values
and cultural identity to populations that may see themselves
as disadvantaged or repressed within their countries. But
the political contexts and the consequences that follow are
diverse - for example, only some activist groups are revolutionary
in intent. Understanding that heterogeneity will be important.
of the Enlightenment
Differences in world view between most Western scientists
and influential Islamic intellectuals (including scientists)
can be profound. Societies in which Islamic beliefs are important
include those actively importing Western science and technology,
yet which have a distrust of the modernity and secularism
of the West. Iranian political commentators, for example,
saw the collapse of the Soviet system not as a triumph of
the West but as a prelude to the total collapse of a system
based on humanist beliefs fostered in the Western Enlightenment,
which, in their eyes, committed the fatal error of divorcing
a scientific understanding of nature from an appreciation
of its divine aspects (see, for example, http://web.syr.edu/~mborouje/jpr.html).
Most Western scientists, and this journal too, would consider
a denial of Enlightenment values as a betrayal of everything
science stands for.
In Iran and in other Islamic countries, there is no shortage
of intellectual interest in the Western scientific and philosophical
traditions. But questioning about the philosophical and spiritual
underpinning of science can be intense. Whether only parts
of Western science and culture can be imported, and whether
secularization is an essential corollary of the Western Enlightenment,
are important questions for Islamic scholars.
The scientist-turned-Islamic-scholar Seyyid Hossein Nasr has
commented on divergent views about modern science within the
Islamic world. One view, which he characterizes as 'modernist',
has for over a century set about importing science without
much attention to the consequences for the societies that
seek to absorb it. Another view sees Western science as giving
rise to ethical problems for Islam, but welcomes it nevertheless
on the basis that Islam can resolve those challenges on its
own ethical terms. And then there is Nasr's own view, which
has been influential, and which sees science as inextricably
bound up in the system of values in which it operates. It
makes sense, in his terms, to identify Islamic science as
related to Western science but "totally transformed into the
part and parcel of the Islamic intellectual citadel" (see
Evidently, in comparison with the character of cold-war contacts,
there may well be fewer common assumptions between scientific
communities in the West and those in Islamic countries. There
is much less knowledge of each others' scientific histories,
and a consequent lack of mutual appreciation. But both inside
and outside the Islamic world, there is also room for consideration
of shared beliefs about the values of science, its history
and its significance. Funding agencies should foster collaborations
between Islamic and Western scientists and between those in
the humanities studying science. Now may be a particularly
good time to do so.
Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2001 Registered No. 785998 England
What Next? End Economic Sanctions
America has long been spared the most painful experience of
modern warfare: massive civilian casualties. The terrorist
attack on September 11 has taught us what most other nations
learned earlier in the century, that no one is safe. Pearl
Harbor was a military target and American civilians were safe
in their homes and communities through two world wars. We
have also been spared that other less dramatic experience
of modern warfare, the destruction of infrastructure, with
all the dislocation, privation and economic disruption that
follow. In earlier wars, the U.S. infrastructure was ramped
up, not destroyed, but today significant parts of it are at
risk. The terrorist attack has newly taught us how dependent
we are on a complex and interconnected infrastructure and
the economy is reeling, but we have yet to understand the
implications of these new experiences.
The first lesson to learn and act on is not that terrorists
are uniquely evil but that all targeting of civilians is immoral.
This includes the destruction of infrastructure, which is
equivalent to the Biblically prohibited poisoning of wells,
the material basis, of survival and the disruption caused
by economic sanctions. Economic disruption creates unemployment
and lost savings in industrialized nations; in the third world
it can create famine and uncontrolled epidemics. The casualties
are real. One of the problems with calling our new effort
against terrorism a "war" is that it legitimates punishing
ordinary people for the crimes of leaders they did not choose.
We must not express our anger by retaliating against populations
or writing off the "collateral casualties" caused either by
bombing or blockade. America learned from the smoldering enmities
that followed the civil war and World War I that peace is
not founded on vengeance, a lesson expressed in the Marshall
Plan. America needs to combine that earlier insight with this
new and painful sense of vulnerability.
The appropriate expression of this understanding would begin
with the lifting of US economic sanctions in all those places
where they have deliberately and apparently bloodlessly eroded
the material basis of survival without changing government
policies, such as Cuba and Iraq. Above all, Afghanistan, with
whose civilians we say we are not at war. Only weapons and
weapon building materials should continue to be blocked (and
these should be reduced world wide). The "wells" that need
to be protected from poison today include infrastructure of
all kinds: transport, water purification plants, public health,
electricity and basic industry and food production; protecting
these includes maintaining communications and education. An
appropriate next step would be to join with our allies in
the coalition against terrorism in the creation or restoration
of essential infrastructures worldwide, especially in the
poorest countries which U.S. economists have taken to writing
The second lesson is the urgent need to take seriously the
full meaning of globalization. Globalization offers huge benefits
and huge dangers, and is in any case probably irreversible
short of calamity. Today we must add skillful, disciplined
terrorism to a list of dangers that includes new infectious
diseases transported rapidly around the planet, as well as
the dangers of human and environmental exploitation that have
been emphasized by the anti-globalization movement. Yet globalization
at its best goes far beyond economic interest and must combine
respect for the distinctiveness of cultural traditions, religions,
and bioregions with the awareness of a radical degree of interdependence
and mutual responsibility.
Hard as it seems to realize, America's self interest can no
longer be distinguished from that of other nations
not just our traditional allies but our rivals and even our
enemies. Recognizing this, the United States must reengage
with international efforts like those for arms control and
against global warming, as a nation among nations rather than
perpetually demanding to be treated as an exception. We need
to recognize that we are vulnerable in our homes and
that our home depends on the health and goodwill of the entire
I have read all the contributions to this discussion and I
feel strangely (the right word, in these terrible circumstances)
uplifted. More or less randomly chosen examples are Robert
Provine's calm and insightful application of signal detection
theory, David Myers' social psychology, George Dyson's inspired
shift from hub and-spoke travel to packet-switching, Karl
Sabbagh's world-wise savvy, Nick Humphrey's constructive humanity,
and Bruce Sterling's sober futurology. Unlike Colin Tudge,
I come away with enhanced respect for the scientific mind
and what it has to offer, even outside the field of science,
narrowly defined. It heightens my sensitivity to what
should we become plunged into a new Dark Age we have
to lose: the culture of scientific rationalism which every
one of the Edge contributors exemplifies and takes for granted:
a culture which, it must be admitted, is almost as alien to
many in Britain and America as it is to the Taliban.
With perverse injustice, a wave of anti-American verbal nastiness
accompanied by nice, liberal self-doubt was
triggered by the physical anti-Americanism of September 11th.
We hear talk of Coca Cola, MacDonalds and other unpopular
icons of supposed American culture. These are not what I would
be sorry to lose, and they are relatively trivial. Modern
America is the principal inheritor, and today's leading exponent,
of European scientific and rational civilisation. And that
means the highest civilisation ever, not excluding the Greeks
When we bend over backwards to see the other point of view
and blame ourselves for everything; when we fall over ourselves
to sympathise with religious 'hurt', 'offence' and legitimate
grievance; when we tie ourselves in knots to avoid anything
that could conceivably be misinterpreted as racist, let us
keep a sense of proportion. The chips are down, and I suddenly
know whose side I am on. A world without Islam, indeed a world
from which all three Abrahamic religions had been lost, would
not be an obviously worse world in which to live. You may
take that as British understatement if you choose. But a world
which had lost enlightened scientific reason (which is at
its best in America, and not only because more resources are
spent on it) would be impoverished beyond all telling. So
I hope I shall not sound too corny if I want to stand up as
a friend of America. Even (and it feels like pulling teeth
to say so) Bush's America.
George Lakoff wants us to mobilise moderate and liberal Muslims.
This is, no doubt, a worthy aim. My own constructive suggestion
is that we should listen to and support those brave former
Muslims who have renounced their faith altogether. The Institute
for the Secularisation of Islamic Society (ISIS) carries on
its web site a perceptive and knowledgeable commentary on
the recent atrocity, by Ibn Warraq (not his real name
as a Koranic scholar he knows the punishment for apostasy).
He is a leading post-Muslim intellectual and the author of
Why I am not a Muslim, a book which I strongly recommend.
Please read him at (http://www.secularislam.org/)
I have withdrawn most of the rest of my contribution, in deference
to what seems to be an American taboo against offending religious
opinion. I remain baffled by the fact that liberal arbiters
freely allow us to offend against political, economic, musical,
artistic and literary opinion, but religious opinion is almost
universally regarded as off limits, even by atheists. Douglas
Adams called attention to the same paradox, in a speech in
I agree with Steve Grand that an appropriate response to the
current atrocity would be for us all to stop being so damned
The US must not let the war on terrorism drive out other priorities.
For example, we should still pay attention to human rights,
non-proliferation, free trade, and democracy. We should not
make the mistake of the Cold War where we let our anti-Soviet
priority lead to collaboration with brutal right-wing dictators.
Even more important, we must not let the war on terrorism
distract us from dealing with other problems. Examples of
other problems that need attention are the plight of millions
of refugees from and in Afghanistan, the stagnation of our
relationship with North Korea, the adjustment of China to
the WTO, and the possibility of progress between the PLO and
Israel. And if another problem arises that calls for attention,
we must not be too distracted to deal with it as well. An
example would be a currency crisis in a country like Argentina,
that if not attended to, could spread through the continent
and then throughout the Third World.
One of the most important issues facing the United States
and its like is to prevent 2004 from becoming 1984 (Orwell's
story of a dismal future). In defense of liberty and in order
to defeat those who attempt to subvert it by terror, we must
avoid so changing our society that they will have won.
It is very easy to demand changes in our laws and those of
our friends that will "make it easier to protect ourselves".
These laws now protect our citizens from excessive intrusion
of government at all levels into their private life and their
private thoughts. It is tempting to argue that the government
needs to be able to listen to your phone calls, to monitor
you email, to make sure it can by forbidding encryption etc.
It will also be argued that having cameras trained on citizens
in public places and keeping those records for latter analysis
will help keep us safe. Picture a future politician who retroactively
applies those records to a morality in the future and shows
how you met a non-person years ago and thus you must be non-loyal.
Ben Franklin said more than 200 years ago "They that
can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
We must defend our liberty not just now but we must realize
that what we do now will define what nation we will pass on
to our children and their children. Liberty, once given up,
is almost impossible to recover. We must choose wisely and
deliberately what we do to defend our democracy and our future
and our children's future.
Why does the rest of the world hate Americans so much? I agree
with Roger Shank that we must face this question.
One reason surely concerns the unthinking zeal with which
we export our brand of American consumerist capitalism
a zeal comparable in irrationality and intensity to fundamentalist
religion. Luyen Chou has observed that We seem to conflate
our technological supremacy, our consumerism and exultation
of the free market, with moral supremacy and military imperviousness."
Likewise, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote "We are perceived
increasingly as a country willing to trample underfoot anyone
who interferes with our God-given right to the latest appliances
and diversions. I don't see us solving the problem of anti-American
hatred unless we find a way of including the hopes of the
rest of the world in our plans." They have touched the heart
of our problem.
As an evolutionary psychologist researching a book about the
roots of consumerism, I feel increasing confidence that contemporary
American consumerist capitalism (CACC) is not the only possible
form of reciprocity open to intelligent social primates such
as us, nor the only possible form of a free market economy.
Rather, CACC is a particular cultural development that includes
many historically contingent features, such as:
(1) Until very recently, the ability of pension funds and
mutual funds to invest ethically, by taking corporate social
responsibility into account, was severely limited by laws
regarding fiduciary duties, and by accounting standards. Thus,
the largest blocks of capital available to CACC were explicitly
forbidden to use ethical criteria in deciding which companies
to invest in, and how to vote as shareholders. The result
has been a peculiar amoral sort of capitalism, in which individual
Americans had no idea what evils their pension capital might
be funding, while they simultaneously gave generously to ineffectual
(2) The military-industrial complex has acted as a Keynesian
employment booster since WWII, largely through resource-wasting
vanity projects such as manned space flights and Star Wars
programs, and through massive arms exports that destabilize
other countries. People in the destabilized countries tend
to resent this. Other, less harmful Keynesian employment-boosters
could have been favored instead, such as France's innocuous
waste of manpower in trying to out-compete the Australians
(3) The doctrine of corporate personhood, under which limited-liability
corporations have all the same rights granted to human individuals
under the Constitution. This doctrine was introduced by U.
S. Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite, without argument
or explanation, in a bizarre 1886 ruling in the case of Santa
Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company. The doctrine
of corporate personhood in turn allowed corporations to corrupt
the political system (through their "right" to give campaign
contributions), the media (through their "right" to free speech,
i.e. advertising, and their resulting tacit control as advertisers
over the editorial content of national media), and the public
interest (through their "right"to life i.e. unlimited
persistence even if convicted of corporate malfeasance).
(4) Lack of any high-quality, state-supported television or
radio system (analogous to Britain's BBC) that could offer
critically incisive, internationally oriented news and analysis.
Instead, we have local TV news, local newspapers, and local
radio that pander sensationalism, reinforce provincialism,
and never question the culture's domination by their advertisers.
(5) The ideological legacy of a Cold War against Communism,
which corrupted the ability of American intellectuals to engage
in nuanced, constructive argument about alternative ways to
run our economy and our society. We know something is amiss
when both Ralph Nader's calls to end government subsidies
to corporations, and his calls to improve government subsidies
to PBS, were dismissed as "socialist" by conservative pundits.
These five features of CACC, and many others, were not original
with the American Revolution and could not have been anticipated
by the Founding Fathers. Rather, they arose from about 1880
through about 1940 with the development of specifically American
forms of mass retailing and mass advertising. In attacking
the World Trade Center, I believe the terrorists were attacking
not so much the free market or secularism per se, but America's
arrogance that CACC is the only way any country could be run
in the 21st century.
Although I think Darwinian principles illuminate a great deal
of human behavior, our American problem is more cultural than
biological. We need a serious, cultural self-examination of
CACC not a vague, superficial debate about the importance
of spiritual values in a materialist world, but rather, a
historically informed examination of specific ways in which
power, money, and culture have intersected to corrupt our
democracy. If the rest of the world sees us undertaking this
self-examination, we will have much less to fear. But if they
see us persisting in our blind arrogance that CACC is best
for everybody, the blood will be on our hands next time.
Here are some thoughts about the disaster and our reactions
to it. They don't answer your question, but perhaps it may be
helpful to look at these events in a wider context.
The day after the disaster, I had lunch with an Austrian friend.
He talked about the events of July 1914 after the Archduke Franz
Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. Many people in the Austrian
government, including the Emperor, felt that this act of terrorism
should be handled diplomatically. But the newspapers were screaming
for war against Serbia, using the same rhetoric that we hear
today. The Serbian government is sheltering the terrorists and
must be punished. The world must know that the Austro Hungarian
Empire is a great power and capable of defending its interests.
Since we can't make war on the terrorists, we must make war
on Serbia for helping the terrorists. This barrage of patriotic
frenzy in the newspapers continued for four weeks, and finally
pushed the government to take the disastrous steps that led
to the outbreak of World War One at the end of July. In many
ways, our present state of mind is uncomfortably similar to
July 1914 in Vienna.
The events of September 11 brought to mind another vivid and
uncomfortable memory. I am sixteen years old, lying in bed
at my home in London on a noisy night in September 1940. I
am violently hostile to the British Empire and everything
it stands for. I hate London, the citadel of oppression, with
its grandiose buildings sucking the wealth from every corner
of the world. I lie in bed listening to the bombs exploding
and the buildings crumbling. What joy to hear, after each
explosion, the delicious sound of buildings falling down,
the great British Empire audibly crumbling. The joy far outweighs
any fear that my own home might be hit, or any pity for the
people in the falling buildings. How many sixteen-year-olds
all over the world are now seeing on television the pictures
of the World Trade Center buildings collapsing, and feeling
the same joy that I felt in 1940. I find it easy to imagine
the state of mind of the young men who so resolutely smashed
those planes into the buildings. Almost, I could have been
one of them myself.
The only wisdom that I can extract from these memories is
that the problem of terrorism is not a military problem. It
is a problem of people's hearts and minds. Attempts to solve
it by military means will only make it worse. I don't pretend
to know how to solve it. A good way to start would be for
our country to stop telling the rest of the world how to behave.
We must learn to live with the world as it is, not as we want
it to be. We must treat our enemies with respect, so that
we do not appear to be trampling on their cultures and traditions.
The ultimate goal must always be, not to destroy our enemies
but to convert them into friends. And meanwhile, do whatever
we can to defend ourselves without killing more thousands
of innocent victims.
Decision Theory And National Security
Decision theory offers guidance for national security policy
and associated civil liberty issues introduced by the tragic
events of September 11. Signal Detection Theory, the state-of-the
art procedure for decision making considered here, provides
a powerful model for detecting the presence of a "signal,"
whether a sensory stimulus in the laboratory, a bomb, or a
terrorist. Although the underlying mathematical model is complex,
predictions from the model are straightforward and will be
explored in a few of the many possible security-related applications.
In detection tasks involving yes/no decisions, there are two
ways to be right and two ways to be wrong. In searching for
a bomb among airline luggage, for example, a security person
responding "yes, I've detected a bomb," can result either
in a "hit" (the correct detection of a bomb), or a "false
alarm" (saying "yes" when no bomb is present). As with "yes,"
the decision of "no" also carries dual consequences, one right
and one wrong. An inspector deciding "no" can either correctly
deny the presence of a bomb (a "correct rejection"), or produce
the dreaded "miss," the failure to detect a bomb when one
Enough about theory. What about security policy? The decisions
are not as straight-forward as policy makers may like. We
must confront a pesky problem there is no single best
decision, because each alternative has linked costs and benefits
that cannot be finessed. For example, the only way to detect
more bombs (increase "hits" and reduce "misses") is to lower
our criterion and say "yes" more often, a result that also
increases false alarms. The only means of detecting all bombs
is to always say "yes, a bomb is present," and act accordingly.
Obviously, we must balance this impractical standard against
the expense and inconvenience to travelers and airlines, and
the reduced attentiveness and credibility of security personnel
who would almost always be crying wolf. But instructing inspectors
to respond to suspected bombs only when they are certain of
their judgement is no solution fewer "yes" responses
serves only to lower the proportion of hits and increase the
proportion of misses.
One means of increasing bomb detection rates by inspectors
would be to increase the number of bombs to detect. Another
would be to provide a reward (cash, promotion, etc.) for successful
bomb detection. Both approaches produce a bias for saying
"yes" and a higher rate of bomb detection. The virtue of the
reward procedure is obvious, but what of the dubious procedure
of increasing bombs? The best procedure would be for roving
security inspection teams to plant fake bombs in luggage.
Security personnel will be more attentive if they are aware
that test bombs will be present to detect, rather than the
present situation in which their career will probably pass
without a single "hit." Currently, variants of the fake bomb
technique are used only for unsystematic exposes of flaws
in the security system, not to improve inspector performance.
Security decisions become more controversial when we shift
our attention from bombs to the people who may plant them.
Fortunately, decision theory cuts through political hyperbole
and clarifies the conflicting demands of security and civil
liberty. As in the task of bomb detection, the only way of
increasing "hits" (e.g., terrorist detection) is to lower
the criterion for saying "yes," an act that necessarily yields
more false accusations. No method of improving detection rates
magically escapes the costs of more false alarms.
learning" is another area of behavioral research that brings
insight to detection tasks but forces tough decisions. Through
trial-and error, humans and other animals learn cues relevant
to discovering stimuli, whether a bird developing a "search
image" for a caterpillar hidden on a leaf, or the police generating
a "profile" of a likely suspect. Focusing on relevant cues
increases the efficiency of the search, but is the basis of
"profiling," a potential threat to the civil liberty of targeted
groups. However, there is no way of implementing an efficient
search strategy that considers all suspects in proportion
to their number in the general population, a tactic suggested
by opponents of profiling. In the recent crisis, evidence
suggests that airline security is more at risk from Muslims
from the Middle East than from Episcopalians from the Midwest
and suspect profiles should be weighted accordingly.
Approaches to stimulus detection and decision making are well
understood and grounded in value-free theoretical and empirical
research. The challenge is to balance the social costs and
benefits of various options when decision protocols become
want nothing more right now than to have distance from the
awful events of Sept. 11th, but distance is not available
to me. I live five blocks from the poor World Trade Center
and saw the attack from an outdoor café at the corner.
I saw many things that I am not ready to describe. I was evacuated
and returned almost a week later to find my home damaged.
It isn't yet clear if I'll have to move or not. And yet, of
course I feel lucky, even a little guilty, at my relatively
extreme good fortune.
Seeing the dreadful rescue site is an unbearably sad daily
ritual. It is beyond my mental capacity to register that I
have seen with my own eyes over 6000 civilians suddenly killed
in front of me.
I struggle for something useful to say. I think I'll be wiser
about this at some point in the future, because some distance
must surely form with time.
Here is a scattering of ideas that might be of some small
I must first address some remarks to "Leftist" readers in
Europe. Many of you have suggested to varying degrees that
we Americans brought this attack on ourselves through our
horrid foreign policy. The claims vary from the mild- that
we can't expect to extend our will around the world without
somebody striking back- to the insane, as exemplified by the
words of Karlheinz Stockhausen , who said the attack was "the
greatest work of art ever." I'm a composer, and I fear these
words will tarnish the tradition of Western music forever.
That someone could even think to say this is an indictment
of our esthetics. Could one of our most prominent artists
really have lost touch with all concerns other than the quest
for extremity and public notice?
To address the more mild slights: I don't think our recent
foreign policy has been as consistently bad as it's often
portrayed. Somalia really was a humanitarian effort; our Balkans
policy was late and confused, but not imperialistic, and was
at least better than Europe's; the Clinton mid-East peace
proposal was enlightened, respectful to all sides, and at
least plausible; our man Mitchell is roving around the world
talking sense to all parties
There are a lot of kinds of power. There's an odd strategic
parity between post-industrial democracies and the new worldwide
society of suicide-cult terrorists. You really don't need
to envy us now, ok?
Here is a historical framework that I have found useful in
thinking about the attack: The advantages of confederation
have not been constant. Rather, they've been on a constant
track of modification due to changing technologies. Technology
has changed the degree to which cooperation between people
improves their fortunes.
If we go back far enough, say before the bronze age, there
were limits to the advantages individuals could gain from
forming large alliances, and indeed there were benefits to
staying in small hunting or scavenging parties instead of
But once a technology like the shield appeared, it created
a rationale for large scale cooperation. A line of men cold
walk with their shields overlapped to form a moving wall of
metal which was quite impenetrable. Similar observations could
be made about agricultural and many other technologies. This
enabling of scaling produced in its extremes the Roman Empire,
and eventually the modern states.
By the time we come to the twentieth century, there was a
new problem: States had become TOO powerful, once again because
of changing technologies. Survival in a nuclear age depended
on détente and treaties, structures that superceded
Perhaps we are now entering a period when tiny groups of people,
or even individuals, routinely become powerful enough to be
threats to large numbers of people. If this is so, then the
original advantages of the state no longer apply. The technologies
that are enabling this transition are, disturbingly, ones
that I have devoted much of my life to improving; distributed
communications networks, simulators, and open education institutions
and teaching tools.
As I think about the forms of defense that could protect us
from repeated intense threats from insane but powerful small
groups of people, I see few strategies that are appealing.
We could try to live in something like an immune system instead
of a state with it's attendant army. It's plain, after all,
that a traditional army is ill-matched to the present threat.
The immune system metaphor is revolting to us, however, because
we've all struggled so hard to cease to be racist or to otherwise
divide the human family into the similar and the foreign.
It's hard to be completely honest about whether an immune
system approach is what's really needed, or whether it's just
the easiest response for us to envision. Xenophobia seems
to me to be a universal human tendency, and that observation
stands whatever mix of nature and nurture might be responsible.
On the other hand, maybe ever more severe social structures
that resemble immune systems are inevitable, and as we learn
to survive in the new situation we will expose a new grim
corner of the confines of the human condition.
In the past, I was pro-privacy and most definitely against
the notion of a government spying on me. Now I think I was
crazy to have that position. Yes, the government poses a threat,
but I wasn't willing to believe before that there were other
threats that are even worse.
I can see a few rays of hope that dimly illuminate how a society
might be pleasant and still protect itself from violent/suicidal
cults. Instead of surveillance, a high degree of transparency
might protect us from evil. An American supreme court justice
famously proclaimed that "Sunlight is the best disinfectant".
While this trope originally concerned censorship, it could
just as easily be applied to the balance between privacy and
security. The Dutch came upon a version of this. Theirs is
a dense society of intense interdependence, and in it one
does not close one's curtains. Perhaps we should make all
our emails and phone calls freely available to anyone who
is interested. Almost no one will be. Once revealed, our fascination
with the private lives of other people will be so minimal
that our boredom could form the basis of a stable social order.
Another possibility is that we might retain privacy but imagine
more elaborate governmental structures than we have yet seen
to reduce the chances that intelligence agencies will abuse
their powers or become lost to their own ideological phantoms.
There is also a McLuhanesque thought that has occurred to
me. In the last few years, the Arab world has encountered
its own mass media for the first time, in the form of satellite
television stations. I've seen a little of the material, and
it is inflammatory. It might be the case that societies require
some years to get sufficiently used to mass media so as not
to be driven insane by it. World War II might have had something
to do with the West's early experience of the power of mass
media and modern propaganda. Over time one grows somewhat
immune to it. In this light, cynicism is seen to be not only
a good thing, but a mental habit that is necessary if any
society is to survive in an age of potent media.
Finally, I must address a question to my colleagues on edge.org.
In the final decades of the twentieth century we've seen an
unprecedented rejection of the enlightenment. The assault
on rationality has come in many forms, from pricey astrologers
for coddled pet dogs, to the prominence after centuries of
obscurity of the most militant and strident variants of just
about every world religion. We have recently seen neo-Christian
suicide cults (the Branch Dividian), Jewish extremists not
heard from since Roman times (the "Settlers"), Hindu ultra-nationalists,
and many others.
Is our way of marketing science and technology part of the
problem? I must emphasize that it's the marketing that I worry
about, not the technological capabilities or scientific theories.
I'm thinking of the way we market computers as living things
and Darwinian interpretation as an oracle. Some of this must
play very strangely to people who are poor and wonder what
will happen to them as the elites in the West soar into uncharted
heavens on the wings of Moore's Law and the genome, hoping
to leave even the most basic rules of life as it was known
Is violent fundamentalism in part encouraged by a sense that
science and technology are ruining faith in the soul?
I'm not talking about any notion of an immortal soul. I just
mean the sense that a person is somehow really there, conscious,
that when one communicates with other people they are similarly
really there. I know many of the respondents on edge.org believe
it's only a mental confusion to feel alive, but I beg you
in this instance to reconsider your position. You can do so
without harming science in any way, and you'd be more honest
for having done it.
now?' depends on our analysis of what happened and 'What happened?'
depends on perspective. For most westerners, the twin towers
were two office blocks for global traders. For the charismatic,
inward-looking seventeenth child of a family of 50 Saudi Arabian
siblings, Osama bin Laden, they did not simply symbolize the
horns of Satan stretching from earth towards heaven, they
were their physical reality. The actions of Mohamed Atta and
Marwan Al-Shehhi, the respective pilot-murderers who destroyed
the World Trade Centre on 11th of September 2001 have been
attributed to their religion both by us and by those who supported
them. They cannot now tell us their own justification but,
even if they were also able to say it was religion, I would
remain unconvinced. Religious and political ends may have
provoked this tragedy, but they needed a substrate to act
on, one that is not created by religion itself. Many fundamentalist
Muslims would not and could not have done what they did. It
takes a particular type of personality, under particular circumstances.
It was only on the 10th of May 2001 that Judy Kirby drove
her nephew Jeremy Young to an Indianapolis branch of Toys
R Us to get his tenth birthday present, picked up her own
three children and then deliberately drove them all at speeds
approaching 100 miles an hour down the wrong side of Ind.
67. A witness saw a small boy on the front seat on his knees,
gripping terrified onto the dash before the spectacular explosion
that killed all the children in the car, plus two in an oncoming
van and their father. Bizarrely, Kirby survived and is now
serving 215 years. She was not a fundamentalist Muslim funded
Laden. She was a disturbed, depressed and aggressive human
being with a grim romantic streak who wanted to commit suicide
infamously. One look at Mohamed Atta's face in the published
photo tells me that here was a protagonist who (while at one
level a well-educated and financially well-off man) was profoundly
depressed too. In Islam, as in many cultures both now and
in the past, suicide is deeply shameful. This can give the
road to martyrdom powerful appeal.
Human beings are individually capable of holding mutually
contradictory beliefs and also of being guided as much by
uncognized emotion as any species of logic, whether religious
or materialist. Atta, as he flew into the side of the World
Trade Centre may in one way have believed in a martyr's reward
in paradise. At another level he may have hoped for oblivion,
an end to inner pain, by committing a personal suicide that
was masked in a cloak of fanatical religion. But he was one
of 19 others, spread among the four hijacked planes. None
of them quite needed Judy Kirby's level of lone resolve to
do what they did. They had invidious backup and they had each
other. So it was much easier.
Depressed-aggressive suicide-murderers are likely to be people
who feel unloved and unvalued, the very opposite of the New
York firemen and self-sacrificing passengers aboard the fourth
plane, scuppered in the Pennsylvania woods. Actions that create
more desperate and bitter people will contribute to the world
becoming more dangerous for us all. What now? it depends
on the quality of our humanity.
been a lot written about our military limits, as if it were
impossible to combat a network.
Actually, we've learned a great deal in the last ten years
about how to degrade, detach and destroy human trust networks
(as distinct from electronic networks). Ironically, it's the
flip side of what we've been furiously learning about how
to make ours work better.
I wrote an article in The Washington Post on September
17th about destroying networks after I got a chance to talk
to a lot of smart people, from Manuel Castells to John Arquilla
to Karen Stephenson. The whole piece is at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41015-2001Sep16.html.
key excerpts follow:
Maybe We Can't Cut Off Terror's Head, but We Can Take Out
By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 17, 2001; Page C01
how to establish a target list in a network?
The good news is that in the last decade we have developed
a whole new set of weapons to figure that out.
An industry has arisen to help corporations build new networks
and junk old hierarchical bureaucracies in the age of merging
and emerging companies, says Kathleen Carley, director of
the Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational
Systems at Carnegie Mellon University. New tools have been
developed that analyze how an organization interacts, yielding
a kind of X-ray that shows where the key links are.
There is a general set of principles to any network, says
Stephenson, whose company, NetForm, has developed software
that mathematically analyzes networks.
She points out that typically a network is made up of different
kinds of nodes pivotal people.
The critical ones are "hubs," "gatekeepers" and "pulsetakers,"
she believes. Hubs are the people who are directly connected
to the most people; they know where the best resources are
and they act as clearinghouses of information and ideas, although
they often are not aware of their own importance. Gatekeepers
are those connected to the "right" people. They are the powers
around the throne, and often they know their own importance.
Pulsetakers are indirectly connected to a lot of people who
know the right people. They are "friends of a friend" to vast
numbers of people across widely divergent groups and interests.
The classic example of how to use this analysis is "finding
the critical employee in the company the lone expert
who knows how to fix the machine," Carley says. Ironically,
without network analysis, managers frequently don't recognize
who that is and the nature of his importance.
"But there's no reason it can't be turned around in the opposite
way," she says. There's no reason organizational glitches,
screw-ups, jealousies and distrust that slow and degrade performance
can't be intentionally introduced." A network's ability to
adapt to new challenges can be degraded.
Carley says: "One of the things that leads to the ability
to adapt is who knows who and who knows what. The higher that
is, the better the group's flexibility. But you can reduce
the number of times the group can communicate or congregate.
Or you can rotate personnel rapidly." And in war, this may
have to be done by capturing or killing them. "You can also
segregate the things people are doing, so they learn only
on a need-to-know basis. The more isolated the tasks are,
the more you inhibit their ability to function as a team.
"Imagine in your office if you knew who went to whom for advice,"
Carley says. "If you found a set of people who gave out more
advice than anyone else and then removed them from the network,
so they can't communicate with others, you would infringe
on the ability of the network to operate."
In the case of terror networks, people are linked by family
ties, marriage ties and shared principles, interests and goals.
They thus can be all of one mind, even though they are dispersed
and devoted to different tasks. They "know what they have
to do" without needing a single-central leadership, command
the other hand, depending on the structure of the network,
removing a few key nodes can sometimes do a lot of good, says
Frank Fukuyama, author of the seminal work "Trust: The Social
Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity" and now a professor
at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins
"Some are so tightly bound to each other that they are not
embedded in other networks. Kill a few nodes, and the whole
thing collapses. Take the case of the Sendero Luminoso [Shining
Path] in Peru. It couldn't have been that hierarchical. It
was designed for the mountains of Peru. It couldn't have been
terribly centralized. It had a scattered cell structure. It
was hard to infiltrate. It was dispersed. And yet when you
got [Shining Path founder and leader Abimael] Guzman and a
few top aides, the entire thing fell apart.
"The idea that there is no end of terrorists, no way to stamp
them all out, that if you kill a hundred, another hundred
will spring up I would be very careful of that assumption.
The network of people who are willing to blow themselves up
has to be limited. Sure, there are sympathizers and bagmen
and drivers. But the actual core network of suicide bombers
is probably a much smaller population. It is also tightknit
and hard to infiltrate. But it is limited. It is not obvious
to me that there is an endless supply."
Another tactic: advancing the cause of the weakest link.
"Suppose I've got a really powerful pulsetaker," says Stephenson,
"vying for a position of dominance. But I also know that a
member of the blood kin group is moving forward who is weaker.
If you arrange an accident to eliminate the pulsetaker, and
let the weaker family member come in, you've helped corrupt
The beauty of seeding weakness into an organization is that
you can degrade its effectiveness while still monitoring it,
and not causing a new and potentially more efficient organization
to replace it. "You don't want to blow away the organization.
You want to keep some fraudulent activity going on so you
can monitor it. If you blow them away, you lose your leads,"
says Stephenson. "Better the devil you know. Like [Moammar]
Gaddafi. Keep him alive, because you know him. Who knows what
sort of clever mastermind might replace him."
Intelligence is crucial to analyze the network's weak links
so you can destroy it.
"You're talking about what amounts to a clan or a tribe or
brotherhood of blood and spilled blood. That is really tough
to crack. Trying to infiltrate it we're talking years,"
says David Ronfeldt, a senior social scientist at Rand. However,
from outside the network you can also look for patterns that
stand out from the norm, like who talks to whom, e-mail exchanges,
telephone records, bank records and who uses whose credit
card, says Ronfeldt.
"I would attack on the basis of their trust in the command
and control structures by which they operate," says Arquilla.
"If they believe they are being listened to, they will be
inhibited. If we were to reduce their trust in their infrastructure,
it would drive them to non-technical means force them
to keep their heads down more. A courier carrying a disk has
a hell of a long way to go to communicate worldwide. If you
slow them down, interception is more likely."
Human networks are distinct from electronic networks. But
technology is the sea in which they swim.
"What made nets vulnerable historically is their inability
to coordinate their purpose," says Manuel Castells, author
of "The Rise of the Network Society," the first volume of
his trilogy, "The Information Age."
"But at this point," he says, "they have this ability to be
both decentralized and highly focused. That's what's new.
And that's technology. Not just electronic. It's their ability
to travel everywhere. Their ability to be informed everywhere.
Their ability to receive money from everywhere."
However, Arquilla likes the idea of understanding how the network
works by using clandestine technical collection. For instance,
he says, when any computer user surfs on the Web looking
for travel tickets, say more often than not a piece of
software, called a cookie, is transmitted to his computer. The
device monitors his every move and reports back to some database
what he's done.
Now, Arquilla says, "think of something much more powerful than
cookies." They exist, he says. One way to use them is by creating
"honey pots." This involves identifying Web sites used by activists
or setting up a Web site that will attract them, and seeding
them with these intelligent software agents. When the activists
check in, they can't leave without taking with them a piece
of software that allows you to backtrack, getting into at least
one part of the enemy network. "That likely gives you his/her
all channel connections, and maybe even some hints about hubs
or the direction of some links," says Arquilla.
There are other possibilities.
"You know those little cameras that some people have on top
of their monitors? Let me just say that it is entirely possible
to activate those and operate them and look through them without
the machine being turned on," he says.
Software also exists that "allows you to reconstruct every single
keystroke. One after the other. Why is that important? If you
do find the right machine, you can reconstruct everything that
happens. Even with unbreakable encryption, you have all the
1996, Arquilla and Ronfeldt wrote a slim but highly prescient
volume called "The Advent of Netwar" for the National Defense
Research Institute, a federally funded research and development
center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the defense agencies.
It predicts that in a war between human networks, the side
with superior intelligence wins. It also makes some tactical
suggestions about countering human networks with counter-networks
that actually have been used to combat computer hackers.
Find a member of the enemy group who is clearly a
harmless idiot; treat him as if he were the most important
figure and the only one worthy of being taken seriously.
Single out competent and genuinely dangerous figures;
write them off or call their loyalty to the cause into question.
Control the stories people tell each other to define
their reason for living and acting as they do. The terrorist
story, says Ronfeldt, "gives these people common cause
us versus them. Right now the U.S. would seem to have the
edge at the worldwide level. But within the region, there
was the dancing in the streets in Palestine. Part of the
story is that America's evil, and that America's presence
is to blame for so many of the problems in the Middle East.
We have to attack that part."
Find the list of demands extorted by the network;
grant some that make no sense and/or disturb and divide
their political aims.
Paint the enemy with PR ugly paint so that they seem
beyond the pale, ridiculous, alien, maniacal, inexplicable.
Destroy their social support networks by using "helpful"
but differently valued groups that are not perceived as
Divide and conquer; identify parts of the network
that can be pacified and play them against former allies.
Intensify the human counter-networks in one's own
Manuel Castells: "We should be organizing our own networks,
posing as Islamic terrorist networks. We should then demand
to join one of these networks and then destroy the trust structures.
Only way to infiltrate. Oldest technique in the world."
Few of these ideas involve flattening Kabul, all of these
Stephenson worries that massing the Navy near Afghanistan
is "a symbolic show of old-fashioned strength. It's not about
that anymore. This whole playing ground has shifted."
"In order to do anything, you cannot be blind," says Castells.
"The most extraordinary vulnerability of the American military
is it looks like they do not have many informants inside Afghanistan.
It also looks like the majority of the components of this
network do not relate directly or essentially to nation-states.
That is new. Unless we have a fundamental rethinking of strategic
matters, it's going to be literally, literally exhausting
and impossible. It will be desperate missile attacks at the
wrong targets with a lot of suffering. Massive bombardments
turn around the opinion in many ways."
"Basically," says Ronfeldt, "you have to find somebody to
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
The eloquent statements made by people much closer to this tragedy
and its root causes than I am prompt me to consider how we should
deal with one of its effects: not just the crash of the four
airliners, but the crash of the airline system which followed.
I suspect that the 9/11 events will be remembered like the Hindenburg
disaster of 1937. Although modern airliners are rugged, proven,
hard-working and highly-evolved craft, the air travel system
as a whole has become fragile, overextended, and subject to
spectacular failure. 1937 signalled an end to the era of airships
and led directly to our current airline system; 2001 may signal
an end to the era that began in 1937 and the beginning of something
Technologically, there are many solutions to the problem of
high-speed transport besides airliners. Most are variations,
one way or another, on the principle that it is inefficient
to build machines that fly above most or all of the atmosphere
to achieve high speeds when you can simply remove the atmosphere
from a small tube on the surface and send whatever you want,
exactly where you want it, at almost any speed you wish.
In addition to technology, there is topology. Our hub-and-spoke
airline system was near a breaking point, and adding a 2-hour
delay in getting through an airport that then gets you to another
airport that is still 2 hours from your destination could be
the final straw that gives alternatives a chance. Think packet-switching
of 6-passenger capsules rather than circuit-switching of 200-passenger
A new network won't begin to grow until it is given a critical
mass from which to start. ARPA had to get the Internet started
with those first few nodes. Don't throw good money after bad
trying to bail out the airline industry; put that money into
something else. Get the oil pipeline industry, Boeing, Detroit,
and all defense contractors on board. The United States deserves
an internal transportation system commensurate with its stature
as the leader of the free world. This war will be won on the
ground, not by trying to defend against rogue missiles, rogue
airliners, or rogue states.
How did the United States of America win the cold war? It wasn't
by building Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. It was by building
the Interstate Highway System.
I have lots of ideas but have decided to present just one
What Can The West Do To Help Islamic Countries Overcome
Today fanaticism based on Islam is a major force in Islamic
countries. It is a danger to the West, but it is much more
a danger to the peoples of these countries themselves to whom
it has already done enormous harm. What's the harm?
Oppressive Islamic fanaticism is in part a recent development
- perhaps from the 1970s. Before then intellectual youth were
modernists, but in the 70s political Islamism became dominant
in many countries. Perhaps this is related to the loss of confidence
in Western society among the Western media elites and among
Western youth, at least as depicted in the media.
1. It has led to more oppressive government. Many governments
in these countries have always been oppressive, but religious
fanaticism makes the oppression worse.
2. It has suppressed free speech and free press and has
put dissenters in prison or killed them.
3. It has reinforced educational systems based on rote learning
and fostered ignorance.
4. It has hindered economc progress.
5. It has prevented these countries from making their full
contribution to science and technology. In the Middle Ages
and well into the European Renaissance Islamic countries
were leaders in mathematics and science. In particular,
they preserved the Greek knowledge, but they did a lot more.
Fanaticism is therefore not a permanent feature of these countries,
and will probably die down again as new generations come to
see it as a dead end.
What can the West do about this situation?
In the main the changes will have to come from within these
countries, but Western media are quite influential. The purely
cultural aspects of the West are sufficiently widely known,
whether it be high culture or the low culture of consumerism.
Here is some of what can be done.
Western broadcasts in the languages of these countries should
1. Historical contributions of these countries to world
The voices of dissidents to oppressive governments.
3. Direct criticism of the harm fanaticism does.
4. Current contributions of writers, e.g. Mahfouz, to world
5. Developments in Western science, technology and medicine.
Probably the number of broadcasts should be increased.
More Internet sites emphasizing modernism in Arabic, Farsi,
Berber etc. are needed and people building them should be
The gamut of natural human reactions to the appalling events
we witnessed on September 11th must run their course: shock,
grieving, fear of what happens next, and the need to take
action to prevent further, even worse, terrorist attacks.
There must also be action to deal with the general situation
in the Middle East, particularly the need for a just and long-term
settlement of Palestinian-Israeli problems, or this region
will remain a seedbed of fanaticism.
But beyond these issues, I have another sadness and even greater
fear: that the world will forget the even greater threat we
all face from global warming. If we do not start to face up
to this threat properly, the chaos that will ensue over the
next century as half the Earth tries to relocate to find food
and water will make these recent events, awful as they are,
pale into insignificance.
Since this question has been posted on Edge. I've been
casting around for something useful I could say something
that I could recommend we do. I've failed. Most of the techno-fix
and cultural solutions that occurred to me were either unworkable
or simply closing one of many stable doors after the horse
has bolted. So instead I've decided what to do at a personal
level: as my tiny contribution to this learning experience
I am going to become less tolerant.
A lot of people have expressed the opinion that we need to
become more tolerant, not less; that we need to understand
the reasons behind the terrorists' actions and see how their
decision made perfect sense to them in the context in which
they found themselves. Speaking for the human species as a
whole I think this is true, but for myself I would say that
I have always thought this way and have probably been overdoing
it. I'm a "cybernetic" fatalist: I consider that most people,
most of the time, find themselves in situations where they
have no real choice. Murderers do not kill on a whim, and
governments do not start wars for amusement. They do it because
their circumstances have driven them to it, or at least because
they believe their circumstances have driven them to it, which
is essentially the same thing.
All complex systems, from brains to societies, contain myriad
feedback loops. Every now and then something will happen that
triggers the creation or dominance of a positive feedback
loop, which drives the system into some extreme state. From
here it will probably rebound and thrash violently, eventually
perhaps shaking itself to bits. Once started, these things
become increasingly hard to stop, and beyond a certain point
the individual actors in the drama will be impotent puppets,
driven to do whatever they are driven to do, regardless of
how distasteful they find it. So from my position as a cyberneticist
I have always been (I hope) extremely tolerant of people when
they act as they inevitably will in the context in which they
find themselves. By the time someone does something truly
awful it is probably fair to say that it's not their fault.
Nevertheless, the purpose of intelligence is precisely to
predict such runaway situations well in advance and prevent
them while we still have the energy to do so. Only the stupid
blunder into situations from which they have insufficient
power to extricate themselves, and at the level of individual
organisms it is this predictive energy management that keeps
us alive. Equally, it is our responsibility as members of
the human race to ensure that we do not do things that might
let the whole of society run out of control. And we already
know a good deal about the science behind such systems behaviour.
Blame does not, therefore, lie with the end product
the terrorists, murderers, hooligans and bullies. It lies
with those of us who make trivial decisions with insufficient
thought as to their long-term consequences. The terror starts
with a poorly considered policy, a minor bit of selfishness
or a moment's lapse of concentration. Above all it starts
with simplistic, fallacious or lazy reasoning.
Perhaps the clearest sign of a lack of intelligence is the
inability to distinguish more than two categories at once.
For such people the world is divided into Us and Them, Black
and White, Good and Bad, while in reality nothing is that
simple. Such people frequently lapse into dogma, and I agree
with Richard Dawkins about the culpability of religion in
this instance (on both sides the number of times God
was invoked by Westerners in the aftermath of this tragedy
depressed me enormously). Religion is a powerful force for
polarisation, as are nationalism, sexism and party politics.
Such dogmas create monolithic and potent forces that can easily
topple the system. They allow people to be lazy; to avoid
taking personal responsibility and ally themselves blindly
and unquestioningly to a formula (whether the Bible, the Koran
or a manifesto).
What we need is for all of us to use our brains to the best
of our ability, and when we see lazy, selfish, illogical or
short-term thinking in other people, we should point it out
to them in no uncertain terms. So I have vowed to become less
tolerant of stupidity and irresponsibility than I have been.
From now on I intend to be militantly intellectual. I shall
always remember my moral duty not to hurt people's feelings,
but their beliefs, cultural assumptions and political opinions
I shall consider it my responsibility to consider and then,
if necessary, to challenge. Sadly, it won't save anybody's
life today, but it may help avert disaster for tomorrow.
The "first war of the new millennium" with its very
different targets, and hence tactics provides an excellent
opportunity to make use of what has become one of the most
sophisticated, but relatively unknown, corners of contemporary
social science: the formal study of social networks.
The possibility that the US Administration might now be interested
in this arcane branch of knowledge has already been recognized
by the mainstream press. Terrorists are organized in loose,
intercontinental fabrics of social relations, linked together
as nodes in what have been called "cells" from Lenin to bin
Laden, but which are better recognized as a group of nodes
connected by links which represent the exchange of some sort
of resource ranging from information to machine guns.
For example, the effort to "follow the money" which makes
terrorist activities possible is made more difficult by the
existence of a covert, world wide laundering system called
hawala banking in India or the Hundi system in Pakistan. This
network, defined by the exchange of money, is based entirely
on trust, so that no paper-trail is left behind (it is strictly
a "word of mouth" network, which is what "hawala" means in
Hindi). Still, once the structure of a social network becomes
known, the crucial links for maintaining that structure (or
destabilizing it) can be rigorously identified no matter
how distributed the power relations in it might be. In the
present context, this has obvious implications implications
which have already made a number of practitioners of the networkers'
art nervous about the ethics of their hard won knowledge being
used by politicos in war-making mode. Still, the terrible
recent events in the United States provide a rare opportunity
for a much maligned profession academic social science
to make itself useful to the society which funds it.
Surely part of the answer to the question of "what now?" will
be: Do formal analysis of terrorist social networks.
It is possible, however (as Martin Rees observes in an earlier
posting here), that the next escalation in terrorist activity
will not involve a network at all. Theoretically, a single
biotechnologist with a grudge and a round-the world plane
ticket could instigate a thoroughly modern Black Death. The
paltry remainders of the human race might then have to go
underground for generations until the surface of the Earth
becomes safe for multi-cellular life-forms again. (This is,
in fact, the scenario from Terry Gilliam's gripping movie,
"Thirteen Monkeys".) Tor Nørretranders' suggestion
to decentralize personnel would not help much in such a case.
So network analysis may only work in the short run. The answer
to the "what now" question is thus possibly more frightening
even than what we have contemplated so far, just as driving
people-laden planes into people-laden buildings seemed incomprehensible
only a few short weeks ago.
David G, Myers
The social psychology of terrorism
compels people to commit simultaneous mass murder and suicide?
Although evolutionary psychology may be challenged to invent
an adaptive purpose for such behavior (it can more easily
explain its rarity), my own discipline of social psychology
can help. Research on the roots of hatred, aggression, and
conflict shed light. For example, experiments on "group polarization"
reveal how groups amplify their members' shared tendencies.
In one study, I observed that when prejudiced high school
students discussed racial issues, their attitudes became more
prejudiced. When low-prejudice students discussed the same
issues, they became more tolerant.
Group polarization can amplify the mutual resolve of those
in a self-help group. But it can also have dire consequences.
In other experiments, group decision making has amplified
retaliatory responses to provocation (a phenomenon we may
now be experiencing). Clark McCauley (Bryn Mawr) has also
documented how terrorism arises among people who are drawn
together out of a shared grievance, and who then become more
and more extreme as they interact in isolation from moderating
influences. We can hope that, over time, the globalization
of communication will lessen isolation and its associated
Social psychological principles also help explain our responses
to terror. Four quick examples of principles that have operated
writ large since 9-11:
"Terror management" experiments by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon
Solomon, and Tom Pyszcynski have found that being reminded
of death and of our own mortality heightens prejudice and
"Self-serving bias" ensures that each party to a
conflict will see its own actions and reactions as moral
In many a study, sharing a common threat or predicament
has served to unify group members. Being marooned in a snowstorm
makes friends, and being attacked brings out the flags.
In judging risk, memorable and available images dominate
statistical reality. Over one recent ten year period we
were 26 times safer, mile per mile, on commercial aircraft
than in cars. When this year's numbers are in, air travel
will again have been safer than automobiles (and one suspects
that, for at least the near future, airplanes will no longer
be terrorists' venue of choice). But try to tell that to
anyone which is all of us harboring vivid
images of planes flying into the WTC.
Regarding Richard Dawkins' Guardian essay blaming religion
"insane courage" that enabled the horror of 9-11 "came from
religion," noted Dawkins. If "a martyr's death is equivalent
to pressing the hyperspace button and zooming through a wormhole
to another universe, it can make the world a very dangerous
place . . . . To fill a world with religion, or religions
of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with
Dawkins is perhaps right to suggest that a warped religious
idea of martyrdom and the afterlife was at work here. And
he's surely right that religion at its worst can be toxic
and superstitious which is something healthy religion
must ever be vigilant about (much as science is vigilant about
pseudoscience). Witness Jerry Fallwell's initial explanation
of the disaster. But on balance, is religion good or bad for
us? (Medicine, twisted, can kill people. But we'd want further
evidence before deciding that medicine is bad.)
Why not resolve the issue empirically? Setting aside research
on religion's correlations with health, happiness, and communal
solidarity, what are its effects on good vs. evil-doing? Does
religion's promised afterlife and its associated purpose and
accountability more often call forth good deeds or bad? Does
religiosity tend to be associated with increased or decreased
criminality? With increased or decreased compassion, volunteerism,
and generosity? (As I've explained in The American Paradox,
there are lots of relevant data.) Or we might inquire
into the religiosity/irreligiosity of the world's genocidal
dictators (such as Hitler, Mao, and Stalin) as compared to
the great humanitarians who established universities, founded
hospitals, took medicine to the Third World, and led civil
rights movements in the USA and South Africa.
I find it fascinating that, notwithstanding John's initial
urge to limit the discussion to "hard-edge" comments,
most writers have focused on what we normally consider rather
"soft" topics, such as culture and ways of viewing
one-self and one's world, as well as suggestions for changing
the current global economic situation. This is a remarkable
shift, especially among a group of intellectuals with a background
in science and technology.
Of course, it has always been true that prevention is the
best approach to most problems. But until now we have been
preoccupied with high-tech solutions, intellectually challenging
and expensive, rather than low-tech approaches, cheap and
less interesting scientifically. And we assumed that we had
the luxury to focus mainly on the fancy but less efficient
more resources have been spent on "fighting", on
scales from individuals to nations: on fighting cancer rather
than in stimulating people to live healthier life styles;
on fighting AIDS rather than creating conditions that lower
the possibility of infection; on fighting drug dealers rather
than diminishing the demand for drugs; on fighting unfriendly
countries with military or economic might rather than trying
to understand what the cause of their unfriendliness could
anything good will come from the tragic events on 9.11, it
may be the public realization that the answer to our main
problems can be neither technological nor societal, but have
to be an intimate mix of both. The notion of a third culture
is relevant now more than ever before. And perhaps there is
room for hope.
In the first half of the twentieth century, we had two world
wars. In the second half, after the invention of weapons of
mass destruction, there were no more world wars. Could it
be that the current half century might witness the end of
all wars, when we learn to counter global terrorism in really
eyes have been opened now for the specter of terrorists armed
with nuclear or biological weapons of mass destruction. While
this threat has been with us for decades, it was largely ignored.
If we are lucky, the cruel awakening on 9.11 will finally
teach us to prevent rather than to fight. Unbelievable as
it may sound, wars could soon become a thing of the past,
just like world wars have already become a thing of the past.
The sudden end to hostilities between the Israelis and the
Palestinians may be just the beginning.
this optimistic vision to be viable, we need insight. That
the cold war remained cold was not through an increase in
wisdom and insight, but rather through a very effective form
of deterrence, a side effect of nuclear weapons. Now that
the cold war is behind us, perhaps terrorism will have an
even more remarkable side effect. Instead of paralyzing the
civilized world, it could force upon us a real and deep reflection
of the role of "soft" world views upon the real
"hard" world from scientific or religious
to cynical or nihilistic world views, and everything in between.
Wrestling a discussion of world views from the specialized
and obscure corners of academic philosophy or comparative
history of religion into the broad daylight of practical life-and-death
issues of confronting terrorism would be the first step.
of changing world views, both ours and "theirs",
may seem like an odd weapon, far more odd even than a hydrogen
bomb that is too powerful to be used in a war. But what else
will give us a chance to cut the roots of the mind set in
which terrorism thrives? We will have to change our views
of the societies in which there is so much hatred against
us. And they will have to change their views of our values.
This means that both sides have to make radical changes in
how they view the world. Helping each other to make these
changes may be the only way to go. Just to give one example:
over-simplified and arrogant arguments of scientists against
religion, or of religious adherents against science and secular
values, will hopefully be superseded by more mutual understanding
and hence respect.
short, the main challenge is not to start new fights nor to
focus only on deterrence, but to offer an open invitation
for recognition and respect. By creating a climate for opening
up world views, both ours and 'theirs', whoever and wherever
'they' are, we can invite friend and foe alike in new global
gatherings aimed at learning from and appreciating each others
views. How to even begin such an idealistic program? Several
answers have already been suggested by other contributors:
Roger Schank advocates exporting education; Douglas Rushkoff
advocates writing new narratives; Mihaly Csikszentmihaly advocates
finding a way of including the hopes of the rest of the world
in our plans; Terry Bristol, George Lakoff, Tor Nørretranders
and Mihaly Csikszentmihaly all advocate a new social contract
between the developed and developing world.
we really move from war to deterrence to respect? I don't
know, but I also don't know anything more worth trying.
be honest, I have always thought that "third culture"
was a bit of an overstatement; to me the count felt more like
two and a half than three since the leaning was so much to
the scientific and technological side: interesting and fascinating,
but not really fully a "third way". Until now. The
current discussion is sterling third culture. Congratulations
and thanks for working for so many years to lay the foundations.
How paradoxical it is that it takes such a cruel event to
let the core of the third culture become more bare and visible.
The first thing Edge must do is to emphasise the obvious:
there is no "technical fix" for terrorism. Terrorists
fit into normal society, are trusted by their colleagues and
then they betray that trust. Until so much is known of how the
human brain thinks that it will be possible to read out people's
secret thoughts by some non-existent non-invasive technique,
diagnosing the condition of "terrorist" is science-fiction.
In my opinion, it will always be so.
The second is to insist that we all use words more carefully.
That is not a plea for political correctness but for accuracy
and politeness. We are not embarked on a "war" because,
as others have pointed out, no enemy has been identified. The
phrase "muslim terrorist" means a terrorist who happens
also to be a muslim, but gives offence to muslims when the two
words appear cemented together. Yet our goal in what lies ahead
should be to drive a wedge between the terrorists and the wider
communities to which they belong. (How shall we feel if it turns
out that not all those behind the destruction of the WTC were
muslims?) But we should be unafraid of saying that the Koranic
concepts of jihad and fatwah are incompatible with the tolerance
and the rule of law on which Western Europe and North America
have prided themselves (not always correctly) since the ending
of the crusades.
Third, we must urge consistency. There is a chilling similarity
between the breakdown of the rule of law on 11 September and
the illegality with which single-issue NGOs often set out to
dramatise their aims, by "liberating" laboratory animals
or pulling up GM crops.
Fourth, the campaign against terror must be made internationally
constitutional as soon as possible. There are obvious difficulties;
not all members of the coalition now being assembled have equal
regard for human rights (and even the United States still practices
capital punishment). The United Nations spans an even broader
It will be disastrous if the United States becomes the sole
source of strategy in a long campaign extending over decades.
That will only reinforce convictions (however wrong-headed)
that its undisputed military and economic power is used exclusively
for its own self-interest and which may have contributed to
the attack on the WTC. What is needed is a consortium of governments
sharing US values ("liberty and the pursuit of happiness",
for example, but not religiosity) yet able by openness and deliberate
demeanour to persuade the world that it is acting in the world's
interests. Is that too much to hope for?
I approach the Edge question as a mathematician who examines
logical reasoning within real-life contexts. My research into
the influence of context and culture on human action (as described
in several of my books) has conditioned me always to seek
the logic that guides decisions.
Humans do not act irrationally. When a human acts in a way
the rest of us view as irrational, there is inevitably a context
or background within which the action makes perfect (if sometimes
horrific) sense. To refer to the actions of the September
11 terrorists as "cowardly" or "mindless," as far too many
world leaders have, is a massive misunderstanding of the situation.
Moreover, it is a misunderstanding that, when perpetrated
by those in a position to influence subsequent events, is
likely to have dangerous consequences. It is likewise dangerous
to say such acts are simply the result of "pure evil." Not
because they are not evil; for surely they are. But saying
they are "simply the acts of evil-minded men" provides a neat
and comforting explanation that avoids those of us on the
other side from having to figure out what lies behind the
The September 11 terrorists were not carrying out an act of
"mindless violence." Nothing, surely, can carry more significance
than their choice of targets. They were taking careful aim
at one nation, the United States. Nor is the symbolic nature
of their specific targets mere happenstance. They chose clearly
identifiable symbols both of the America way of life and of
American power and influence.
Assuming that the terrorists were not acting alone (which
seems a reasonable assumption, but has not as far as I know
been ruled out), and that some person or organization lay
behind their actions, then we can all speculate as to the
overall strategic motive, if any: to provoke a US military
response that leads to global warfare; to pressure the US
population to force their government to abandon support for
Israel; to create a symbol of US vulnerability that will eventually
encourage Islamic nations to wage holy war on the West; there
are many possibilities.
Leaving possible strategic goals aside, however, we face an
important question we would do well to answer. What could
possibly persuade 19 human beings to get onto airplanes with
the carefully thought out intention of flying them into large
buildings at high speed and to go through with the
plan? We are not talking about a heat-of-the-moment "irrationality"
here the kind of circumstance where any one of us can
finds ourselves doing something that under normal circumstances
we would regard as wrong, foolhardy, dangerous, heroic, or
even "evil." These guys planned their actions in great detail
and with enormous precision, almost certainly aided by others.
In an article published in the British newspaper The Guardian
on September 15, titled Religion's misguided missiles, Edge
member Richard Dawkins puts the blame squarely on religious
extremism. In doing so, he is surely partly right.
Convincing oneself that one is acting in the name of God for
some cosmic purpose far greater than mere human lives is a
long standing device whereby humans manage to excuse themselves
(in their own minds) the most abominable actions. The decidedly
outdated sexual (and sexist) passages in the Koran that the
world at large has become familiar with in the past two weeks,
which Dawkins also cites in his article, could also play a
role. (Literal reading of some parts of the Koran surely debases
Islam every bit as much as a literal reading of certain passages
in the Bible debases Christianity.) But as others have commented,
there has to be more to it than Dawkins says.
I have no way of knowing, and I fear that if our authorities
find out they will keep it to themselves, but I would not
be at all surprised to learn that each one of the 19 terrorists
had suffered personal, tragic loss of a wife, a son,
a daughter, a close friend, an entire family in a Middle
East air attack. An attack for which, rightly or wrongly,
they hold the United States responsible, be it in the form
of actions in the Iraq War, support for Israel, or simply
the supply of arms and funds to various regimes. You don't
have to be a trained logician or a psychologist to understand
how that could be enough to overcome the normal human desire
to remain alive. Few among us can claim that, when faced with
a person, persons, or even nation that we can clearly identify
as the cause of a horrific loss of our loved ones, perhaps
even in front of our own eyes, we would not want to strike
back. I think I am a fairly timid, placid individual who bears
no one any ill will. But kill my wife, my lover, my sons,
or my daughters before my eyes, and I too would want to hit
back hard. Judging by the responses of the majority
of Americans to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon,
most of whom were surely only symbolically affected by the
devastation, I am not alone. Now put me in the "care" of cynically-minded
and highly manipulative individuals who want to make use of
me for their own ends, and, particularly if I am a young male,
I will eagerly become a decidedly dangerous pawn in that person's
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not seeking to excuse
either the September 11 terrorists or terrorism in general.
Nor am I saying that the US has acted wrongly or in some way
"deserves" to be attacked. Like the vast majority of Americans
(and as an Englishman by birth, I am a US citizen by a free
choice I made as an adult), I am deeply troubled by what happened
on September 11. I feel it on a personal level. To adapt the
words John F. Kennedy spoke long ago in, and of, Berlin, "I
am a New Yorker." I hope that those who were involved in planning
and supporting the attacks are found and brought to justice.
The pragmatist in me even makes me concede that the fight
will inevitably lead to further loss of innocent lives. But
if we are serious about eliminating terrorism and I
hope we are then we must do more than address the symptoms.
We need to understand and then address the underlying
causes. We have to escape the mindset that says terrorists
are "mindless" or "simply evil." Instead, we have to think
deeply about the circumstances within which premeditated and
carefully executed mass murder and mass suicide make contextually
consistent, if ultimately horrific, logical sense.
Human being have evolved to behave rationally in a given context
to follow the logic of the context. Following the survival
logic of the given context is how natural selection works.
We cannot change the logic in a context any more than we can
change the mathematical fact that 1 + 1 = 2. In the case of
terrorism, what we can change is the context. Doing so will
inevitably require enormous wisdom, knowledge, and resources.
Maybe this is where the true future greatness lies for the
most powerful nation on Earth.
President George W. Bush did not say what was in the script.
One could even write that he did not say what Americans until
now believed one should say at such a moment. He has withstood
the pressure of succumbing to the collective consciousness
and if one interprets the impressions correctly
by doing so he has reinvented a piece of America. His address
will do more than bolster international solidarity with the
United States. Despite his allusions to Pearl Harbor and Franklin
D. Roosevelt, Bush's breaking the mold heralds a changed perception
of America's role. His speech shows that it is no mere phrase
to call the coming struggle a "struggle for culture."
This speech could become something like a founding document
of this cultural renewal.
screenplay, this all-powerful reality script that has long
been creating reality in its image, hails from Hollywood and
the literary-industrial complexes of the past 50 years. It
is engrained not just in the minds of politicians, generals
and journalists; it has been rooted in the imagination of
the entire world, including, as we have seen, in that of the
terrorists, as a globalized role model. They produced their
bloody Hollywood exactly as they found it in the American
imagination. In fact, as every detail shows, down to preparatory
visits to the gym, they set it in motion like a machine. And
they believed that everything would happen the way it is set
out in Hollywood's scripts.
to the script, this is what should have happened after the
attack: A government, surrounded by bunkers real and imagined,
fearfully and hastily sets in motion a fateful mechanism that
engulfs the world in flames. It was hardly coincidence that
CNN used the apocalyptic title "The Day After" for
its coverage. In Hollywood's imagination, in the 1980s and
'90s the attack on the Pentagon alone would have unleashed
the big strike.
the future brings, this much is certain now: It is the U.S.
government and not, as European fantasy would have it, concerned
world opinion that is urging patience. The U.S. president
is not dealing with the crisis sitting in a bunker, as Tom
Clancy and Hollywood played it, but by visiting a mosque a
few days after the assault. The United States is not forcing
conspiracy theories upon the world, taking the big powers
into a world war another stereotype instead,
it is trying to forge an alliance with Russia and China.
other words, until the destruction of the World Trade Center,
that is to say, for as long as the Islamist terrorists had
the initiative, everything was running according to a Hollywood
script. But only until that point. The Americans are putting
an end to the movie. And they are also putting an end to any
form of predictability, even by the notoriously anti-American
groups in Europe. For the Islamic terrorists, nothing could
be more disruptive to strategic planning than this change
will be a showdown." These words were spoken yesterday
not by Bush but by the Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan. This
was the moment when the ambassador, deliberately speaking
not in any Afghan language but in Arabic, used a piece of
Wild West terminology in a renewed attempt to focus the Arab
world on the comic-book version of America, which yesterday
the Arab world becomes unable to interpret the West, it would
make sense for us to reassess our own comic-book versions
of the attackers and their leaders. Those who attacked New
York were not displaced, starving, misguided youths. The men
who studied in Hamburg were all from middle-class backgrounds.
Their parents appear to be enlightened, almost secularized
citizens. The attackers were also far from ascetic. From the
German girlfriend to the drinking bout before the attack,
everything points to a type of global terrorist whose ideology
consists essentially of nothing but murdering other people.
Sept. 11, we know that in addition to this death wish, it
also consists of planning and executing mass killings of civilians.
Who can seriously doubt that such a domestic frontline will
open up in Germany too? Groups like the irrelevant Association
of German Writers (to which hardly any writers now belong)
that can think of nothing better than to warn against
a rerun of the nationwide pogroms of November 1938, this time
with burning mosques are following a script of alarming
enemies of the open society know no more about that society
than what its own cultural industry throws on the world market.
In Bush's speech, they have now suffered the first powerful
counterattack. They cannot read the signs, and these children
of the wealthy classes merely imitate the showdown they know
from the movies. An open society reacts differently, with
more skill, intelligence and patience.
it is also true that our society itself expected this least
of all. Its image of immediate escalation, inspired by the
Cold War and still often promoted by narrow-minded politicians
and generals, no longer applies. This does not necessarily
mean the crisis will not escalate. But it will no longer do
so for the reasons laid down in the familiar plot. There is
will change. Films and books will now change as will
culture itself. For example, the idea that every undertaking
by Western civilization must end in failure. Or the idea that
we have no enemies. Or the idea that we can leave it to America
to attract all the hate for the world in which we live.
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2001
Actually, despite Colin Tudge's skepticism, I found the Edge
responses to the Sept.11 catastrophe on the whole much more
thoughtful and potentially helpful than what one finds in
the media, and especially in the pronouncements of our political
leaders. Given that I agree with so much that has been said
so well by, e.g. George Lakoff, Peter Von Sivers, Luyen Chou
et al., I will just focus on just two points I don't think
have been much discussed so far:
1. We must make sure that the new Secretary of Homeland Security
(or whatever it's going to be called) understands that one
of the major reasons our nation is structurally vulnerable
to terrorist acts is the concentration of vital resources
and services (sources of energy, water, transportation, communication,
etc.) As long as we keep building ever larger skyscrapers,
oil tankers, planes, and so on, we present increasingly easier
targets to those who want to do us in. The reason a few barely
armed opponents can hold our technological might at bay in
places like Vietnam, Bosnia, (and certainly Afghanistan) is
that they are part of an elusive network, decentralized and
able to survive without long supply lines. We can't compete
with them on that score, but we should realize that in this
new climate small is not only beautiful, but also more healthy.
2. As I was driving through Montana on September 13, I read
the editorial of The Missoulian with a sinking feeling:
it's response to the tragedy was, in essence: "Don't let the
bastards change the way you live we will show them
they can't beat us by going on with our lives as usual. If
you wanted to buy that new dishwasher, go ahead and buy it.
If you planned that vacation to the Caribbean, go ahead and
make your reservations right away ..."
have seen this idea that consumerism will win the war resurface
again and again. It seems to me equivalent to someone having
been bitten by a malarial mosquito in a swamp who then says:
"I won't let that bug change my lifestyle; I will go back
to the swamp and live there." Ironically, the evidence is
rather conclusive that fancier dishwashers and dreamier cruises
don't make our lives better in any meaningful sense. The material
goals that have become our raison d'etre have a very short
shelf life. People are happy when they have a job that is
fulfilling, a family they can rely on, a faith that sustains
them, and a government that respects their freedom.
United States provided a beacon of hope in the last century
because people around the world saw it as a place where these
goals could be achieved within reasonable material conditions.
Now we are perceived increasingly as a country willing to
trample underfoot anyone who interferes with our God-given
right to the latest appliances and diversions. I don't see
us solving the problem of anti-American hatred unless we find
a way of including the hopes of the rest of the world in our
should not be a code-word for exploitation, but for a sense
of solidarity and responsibility extending to the rest of
the planet. And we should realize that while this would involve
material sacrifices, in terms of quality, it would actually
make our lives more happy and meaningful. In previous times
this message would have come from the churches. Now it is
time that men and women of science take on the responsibility
of telling why life will be better if we acted less selfishly.
It may be a dangerous line to take in these volatile times,
but it comes with the territory.
Todd Feinberg, M.D.
Complacency or Denial? According to reports, after the first
plane hit Tower One of the World Trade Center, and the evacuation
of the second tower was in progress, there was an announcement
that the second tower was secure and everyone should go back
to their offices. Upon hearing this, some workers unfortunately
returned to their desks and some of these persons perished
when that building later collapsed.
As a neuropsychiatrist who has studied psychological defense
in patients who have neurological disease, I found the account
of these events quite extraordinary. How could anyone who
was responsible for the safety of that building declare that
the building was "secure" when the tower next door was in
fact in flames and the cause of that unfolding disaster was
still unknown? How could someone believe that the building
was safe when they knew the first tower was still ablaze?
I further wondered how safe these people felt in the Twin
Towers in the first place, given that there had been an attack
on one of the Towers in 1993 and organizations associated
with that attack were still in operation. Nonetheless, rational
and good people went to work at the Twin Towers every day
without undue anxiety, and while a catastrophe was in progress,
they felt safe enough to return to their desks.
An even greater mystery is how the widespread terrorist activity
that was required by these attacks unfolded right in front
of our nation's collective noses. One wonders how many people
working in banks and other financial institutions noticed
"odd" transfers and disbursements of funds yet explained them
away as somehow acceptable. How many flight instructors quietly
wondered why so many of these future terrorists needed flight
training, yet said nothing?
Were the people that worked in the World Trade Center, their
loved ones, indeed America, in denial of the now obvious fact
that there were more attacks in the offing? After the dust
settles and all the facts are known, I suspect it will be
shown that America has not been merely complacent, but that
we have indeed been collectively as a nation in denial.We
have been in denial because the possibility of a catastrophe
on the scale of the recent airplane attacks on The World Trade
Center was simply unthinkable.
In the medical and psychiatric patient, when psychological
denial lifts, common reactions include anxiety and depression.
In the poorly adjusted individual, there may be serious disruption
and even breakdown of the personality.On the other hand, in
the well adjusted individual, the lifting of denial enables
the person to adjust and adapt in a constructive fashion.America
will now come out of its denial and face these new challenges
with a transformed sense of who we are as a nation.
The most immediate concern is that an ill-judged US response
to the WTC attack could heighten tension still further. But
recent events should be a "wake-up call", alerting us to the
risk of even more devastating attacks, using nuclear devices.
A long-range missile carrying a compact warhead ô the kind
of weapon that "star wars 2" is supposed to defend the US
against ô may be beyond the resources of dissident groups.
Not so, however, detonation of a stolen weapon transported
in a truck or ship, or a crude device assembled, using stolen
fissile material, in a city apartment. The latter activities
are less technically demanding; and they would would, unlike
a missile -launched bomb, leave no trace of their provenance.
The US and Western Europe should offer resources to accelerate
programs to monitor and dismantle the 20000+ nuclear weapons
in the FSU, and to safeguard fissile material. A devastating
amount may already have gone astray, but this effort surely
deserves far more urgent priority from the US government than
But what terrifies me most is the potential impact of biological
advances. Thousands ô even millions ô of people will soon
have the technical capability to make and disseminate "weapons"
that could cause widespread (even worldwide) epidemics. Not
even an organised "cell" or network of terrorists is required
ô just a single fanatic, or a wierdo with the mindset of those
who design computer viruses (or even someone who is merely
incompetent rather than malign) . Even if all nations imposed
strict regulations on perilous applications of biological
advances, the chances of effective enforcement are no better
than in the case of the drug laws. And a single infringement
could trigger disaster. I'm despondent about the 21st century
because there seems absolutely no realistic chance of preventing
these hazards from looming ever-larger.
Succumbing To Narrative, Or Writing Our Own
In his speech to Congress, Bush ô perhaps unintentionally
ô presented the choice before us: we will either bring justice
to the nations of our enemies, or bring our enemies to justice.
Although he probably didn't mean it this way, his two alternatives
represent two completely different tacks. The former suggests
extending the ideals of the Enlightenment on which this nation
was founded into regions where human rights are not honored.
The latter implies nothing less than accepting the fundamentalists'
invitation to holy war.
Were we to bring justice to those who currently suffer under
despotic regimes, it would certainly mark a shift in our foreign
policy, which has until now been based more on short-term
strategic goals than extended democracy's reach. It would
be a welcome change, and one less likely to create the kinds
of fundamentalist Frankenstein monsters we sponsored in the
Engaging in a traditional holy war would be entirely less
fruitful, and tragically hypocritical. Currently, we are witnessing
what happens when the narratives human beings have been using
to understand their reality no longer work. Fundamentalism
is the belief that the real world conforms to the stories
we were told about it; that reality has an author, God. We
do not participate, we merely adhere to the story (or risk
damnation) and are willing to die for the story because the
ending has already been ordained. When the map no longer fits
the territory, it is the territory that must be changed. Life
itself is fixed. Dead.
In the West, thanks to our relative openness, wealth and the
scientific advancement it allows, we have been empowered to
abandon our narratives, and to understand reality as emergent,
rather than ordained. Our brand of idealism ô our emphasis
on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ô encourages
us to participate the writing of the narratives we live by.
As a result, our overarching narrative is a consensus, and
more fluid. Unlike the fundamentalists' ordained apocalypse,
it offers us a way out: evolution.
The attack on the US marks a shocking discontinuity for most
Americans. Ito could lead us back into narrative ô as far
back as the Holy Crusade against the Moslems ô in order to
find a mythology that conforms to these events. Or, we can
look to the underlying causes and even our own complicity
in the emergence of these phenomena, and accept responsibility
for writing a new narrative, altogether.
Vulnerability of Headquarters
The time has come to realize this:
"We will soon be living in an era in which we cannot guarantee
survivability of any single point."
This statement was made in 1964 in the first of a series
of reports from RAND Corporation authored by Paul Baran,
an electrical engineer, striving to solve the problem of
a nuclear war triggered by a mistake.
Baran's concern was that the communication systems of the
nuclear powers of the day were extremely vulnerable to attack.
The systems were centralized, like the telephone network,
depending on a central node connecting everyone else. If
this node was wiped out with a bomb, no one could communicate.
Scenario studies showed that for a missile-controlling general
in such a situation, the urge would be to fire his missiles
before they were wiped out. The result would be a total
The existence of a less vulnerable communication network
would therefore be of great importance to the prevention
of a nuclear war. It would be beneficial to each superpower
if the other power had such a network, Baran argued.
Paul Baran outlined the vision for a distributed, digital
communication network based on what is today called packet-switching.
His inspiration came from the central nervous systems of
animals, surprisingly robust to injuries. The vision has
now become a reality called the Internet (although many
of the people who built the ARPAnet from 1969 and onwards
insists that the were not influenced by Baran's vision,
but that's another matter).
The important point is the insight that Baran brought us:
Our world is dramatically changed by the existence of intercontinental
ballistic missiles. One could say that it has changed from
2 to 3 dimensions.
All traditional military and organizational thinking has
revolved around the idea of a headquarters that could always
be defended, or, at least defended until the very end. Such
headquarters exist in historical forms as royal castles,
white houses, and TV-stations. They have been defended by
moats, barbed wire and doormen. The idea basically being
that we live in a flat world in which enemies don't want
to drown in the water when the bridge has been drawn up.
However, with nuclear rockets offering ruin from the air,
fences and road blocks can no longer guarantee the safety
of headquarters. Therefore, one has to build a communication
system without headquarters.
Baran's original diagram showing of the difference between
a centralized and a distributed network (available at http://www.rand.org/publications/RM/RM3420/RM3420.chapter1.html)
displays in my view the essence of our age.
The trend is now to move away from dependence on headquarters
and into distributed networks of information flow.
Headquarters are a problem in many organizations and systems,
where they represent an irrational bottleneck in the free
flow of information. Be it the CEO of organizations, the
CPU of computers or the conscious self control of human
beings, the idea of every bit going through the center,
is not functional. Building computers, robots and networks
has taught us the need for parallel processing.
There is a historical irony in the fact that it was the
atomic bomb that led to the end of the age of the headquarters.
Now, after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, we know that
it is not only nuclear missiles that makes Baran's observation
of the vulnerability of headquarters true. Even a bunch
of suicidal madmen armed with small knives can wipe out
commercial or military headquarters at their liking.
We can no longer guarantee the survivability of any point.
What now? We have to think along two different lines:
1. How to limit the consequences of attacks;
2. How to limit the probability of attacks.
In an age when we believed we could always defend a given
point, it was wise, cheap and sometimes efficient to concentrate
everything in headquarters. Now, the King's Castle and Manhattan
offer pretty interesting targets for destructive minds.
But is it so obvious that we need to concentrate so many
people and so much power in such a small place, creating
In the old days, there was no alternative. Communication
was not possible without bellboys going up an down elevators
in tall buildings gathered on a small island.
But do we need to concentrate things and people in the age
The realization of Paul Baran's vision in the form of the
Internet makes it possible to avoid headquarters.
So what am I saying? That we should give in to maniacs living
in caves of mountainous deserts and dismantle Manhattan?
No. But I am saying that perhaps we need not proceed further
along the road of vulnerable centers.
Rather than building skyscrapers with 100,000 inhabitants,
as now planned in South-East Asia, we should listen to the
physicist Freeman Dyson who in his recent essay on "The
Sun, The Genome, and the Internet" (1999) argues that we
should "reverse the flow of people from villages to megacities
all over the world". Dyson argues that dependence on solar
energy, which is spread all over the globe, and communication
networks, makes village life once again attractive.
This is not to say that metropoles are not important. But
only to argue that in the long term we can and should reduce
the consequences of attacks by organizing our lives closer
To do so would be wise and enhance the quality of life for
The probability of attacks is another matter.
It is obvious that we are now at a global level confronted
with the same challenge that we faced a century ago at the
national level: It is not in the interest of the rich people
to leave the poor people in poverty.
Welfare and social security is in the egoistic interest
of the people who are well off. It means less crime and
more harmonic societies. Poverty increases the likelihood
of disease and leads to the spread of infections.
Once the air plane has been invented, the quality of life
all over the world has become the immediate concern of even
the richest guy in the richest country. Reservoirs of infection
and migration are two reasons. Terrorism a third.
Of the six billion humans alive on this planet, one billion
have hunger and malnutrition on their daily agenda, while
another billion has overweight on theirs. The amount of
money one has to move from each rich guy to each starving
guy to end starvation is ridiculous: One dollar a week (see
Making sure that everyone has their basic needs fulfilled
is not an unachievable task. To get there will not end terrorism
but it will reduce its probability. And make everybody feel
Religions are a driving force in modern terrorism. But rather
than ridiculing them, as Richard Dawkins likes to do, we
should confront ourselves with an enormous cultural task:
To see the different world religions as reservoirs of human
knowledge of how to manage life. Cognitive science have
come to recognize of the essential role of non-conscious
information processing in the human central nervous system.
Most of what we do, we do without conscious awareness, even
though we tend to see ourselves as fully conscious and rational
This theme has been dealt with for millennia in religious
circles. Is there a chance that we could express the wisdom
of the religious traditions in terms of everyday language,
transparent and obvious to everybody? Could we take up the
project of Aldous Huxley, formulating a perennial philosophy?
In that case we could show that there is an enormous shared
wisdom in the religions that can be expressed in everyday
words. This common wisdom of humanity could then make the
particular traditions and historical dogma of the individual
religions less important. They would still be there, but
Everyone needs a religion (atheism being one), like everybody
needs a language. It doesn't have to be the same one, yet
there is a 'universal grammar'.
The probability of attacks will be lowered if all cultures
could see each other as visions of the same reality, expressed
in different ways.
All this, of course, is very naive and does not confront
the legitimate need for immediate revenge.
But in the long term, we have to accept what the Danish
poet Piet Hein saw as the condition of the nuclear age:
Very happy to get the latest Edge. As usual it is right
on target, and Edge is a perfect forum with the right
minds to get at the issues the new reality brings. Certainly
I have wanted to see such issues as are current tackled by scientific
method. Morals and morality, right and wrong, good and evil,
need a good shaking out in the scientific world. They lurk always
in the wings of scientific work, and the community has too long
parked them in the rag pile of the irrelevance of the non-quantifiable.
In our post-Towers world, we need a scientific understanding
of sacrifice and its effect ô or the fear effect. Murray Gell-Mann
once noted that a lot of bad science came about because of bad
people or words to that effect). Does this mean good science
comes from good people? That's worth talking about and trying
to understand scientifically.
addressing the question of "What Now?" I want to speculate
freely on what might happen on a large scale in the near term.
Here are some rough scenarios, with my even vaguer estimate
of their likelihood.
A. Aum Shinry Kyo II. The malefactors of September 11 are
rounded up with little effort, because they are not genuine
provocateurs of a Clash of Civilizations; they are merely
nuts. Only distantly connected to any serious revolutionary
terrorist, they are in fact an obscure splinter cult who are
mostly dead at their own hands. The suffering of New York
City is seen in retrospect, not as a grand battle over any
principle worth fighting for, but as a simple aberration that
is both tragic and crazy, a loathsome, Jonestown-like phenomenon.
No particular lessons are learned, very little changes in
the global scene, but there's a lasting blow to general morale
and to humanity's assessment of itself. Society is saddened
and sickened, and people around the world are often seen to
hesitate before setting foot in a subway or airliner. Probability:
B. Gulf War III. After a great deal of angst and sword-sharpening,
there's a quick, surprising Coalition victory. Those who promised
a ruthless struggle to the death in the Mother of All Battles
are revealed as blowhards. Suicide bombing cells turn out
to be careless and unprofessional terrorists, who are easily
rounded up by street-wise cops. Americans and allies go back
to their barracks, leaving a few extra Southwest Asian bases
to keep guard on the troublemakers. A war-leader President
with the gratitude of a relieved nation loses his re-election
due to economic troubles.
C. Cold War II. A sustained ideological and economic struggle
sets in between the G-8 and the world's poorest and bitterest
countries. There are numerous hot-war flare-ups, much narco-terror,
a great deal of ruthless, paramilitary spy skullduggery, and
considerable civil dissent from dissidents in the West unable
to morally stomach this grinding, Balkan-style dirty war.
McCarthyism and witch-hunts flare up, while the sentiment
of "Viva Osama" moves to a simmering Central America. There
is huge, inflationary spending on imaginary, symbolic, and
unusable super-weapons. The general American population is
put under a level of police surveillance previously available
only to American black people. This grinds on for decades,
with America gamely bearing-any-burden, on until the opposition
loses all heart and begins drinking itself to death. Probability:
D (1). Pearl Harbor Straight to Bretton Woods. Since there
really is no military enemy to fight a few nasty guys
with boxcutters there is a general economic and diplomatic
rearrangement, without WWII's ugly bother of bombing and sacking
whole continents. The original enemy a rather vaporous
notion of "terrorism" is quickly lost sight of in a
general, very wide-scale, geopolitical emergence into 21st
century Modernity. This global New Deal moves Russia, China,
Cuba, Vietnam and other longterm pariahs into the "Civilized"
camp, while the broken nations that are today considered basket-cases
are made into blue-helmet protectorates. The Second World
vanishes. From now on, there's just two sides: Real People,
and some pariahs.
Among the Real People, there is a great deal of general housecleaning:
currency reforms, arms reduction, climate treaties, economic
rationalization, demolition of trade barriers, labor laws,
emigration, all that sort of thing. Everybody else
The People Without Plumbing, basically have to live
off a combination of empty threats and emergency handouts.
Oddly, the one major power least likely to join the Real People
is probably the United States, but the USA may have a grudging
unilateral role as a kind of Third Way or Loyal Opposition.
D (2) . 1989 Redux. Upset and alarmed by the unnecessary global
mayhem so cynically triggering by madmen, civil society takes
to the streets worldwide in a touching display of aspiration
and political maturity. Democratization sweeps the Moslem
world in a second wave of Velvet Revolution. A grateful mankind
sees the martyrs of New York as the unwitting harbingers of
a better and kinder way of life, which is full of caring,
solidarity, human rights and social justice. This scenario
is basically the same as D(1), but seen from the other side
of the WTO fence and the Genoa barriers. Since Al Qaeda can't
distinguish a Western radical from a Western capitalist, they
are both in the same boat now and can henceforth work in tandem.
E. Greater Afghanistan. The Coalition suffers an outright
military defeat at the hands of indomitable armed peasants,
in a ruthless, bloody, punjee-stick dirty war, possibly combined
with an unconventional use of weapons of mass destruction.
NYC 9.11 turns out to be just the first of a series of bloody
Tamerlane-style attacks from a growing and increasingly frenzied
horde of enemies of the West. Nerve-shattered, the West takes
the last copter from the Saudi embassy and sues for peace.
This Qaeda victory scenario has a number of variants, which
could exist singly or in combination.
E1. The Empire Formerly Known As NATO. The US bears the blunt
of blame for its clumsy handling of the global conflict, which
relied so fatally on the so-called strength of America's arrogant
and untenable free-market ideology. The defeated Alliance
splits up much like its former mirror image, the Warsaw Pact.
Without Persian Gulf oil, the American economy and its war
machine both collapse. Severe discord and disillusionment
ensues, with crime and corruption skyrocketing. Desperate
Russian women leave the streets of every capital in the world
and are replaced by desperate American women.
E2(A). The Great Terror. A victory by fanatics careless of
life becomes a giant Khmer Rouge-style death machine for Islam;
the Aztec charisma of a Qaeda cult requires ever-greater human
sacrifice, especially of one's own. A 12th-century lifestyle
can only sustain a 12th-century population.
E2(B). A Grand Caliphate. With malignant American and Jewish
influence finally scorched from the holy lands of the Umma,
a new Golden Age of just and tolerant Universal Islam ensues.
It's ruled by Sharia law, under a wise and merciful Caliph
who re-unites Sunni and Shi'a and outshines Haroun Al Rashid.
A grateful mankind erects many grand and glorious mosques
in memory of the warrior saints of Islamic fundamentalism;
men whose tactics were rather rough, but in the eyes of history,
fully justified. Combined probability of any of the E variants:
F. America Goes Bonkers. The globe's worst fears of a paranoid
"Cowboy America" come true, as further terror provocations
decapitate the American nation. A ferocious nuclear power,
eyeballs gone rigid with a crazed lust for vengeance, launches
a massive thermonuclear lynching spree. Probability: 2 %
G. Many More Wild Cards. This is neither an "age of terror"
nor an "age of freedom". This is an age of random calamities.
It's a genuine end of history, in which the passage of time
in human affairs no longer has any rules as we previously
understood them. There is no great historical narrative at
hand, nor is there any grand scheme by which a rational analyst
can make useful sense of events. NYC 9.11 is quickly eclipsed
by other, biggest factors even more untoward and shocking:
perhaps dumber acts of terror by even smaller groups, plus
some Greenhouse calamities, an asteroid strike, some brand-new
plagues, or even free beer and five cent nano-genetic intelligent
cigars. Humankind has lost all control of our destiny and
nothing can restore it.
H. None of the Above.
Power of the Images
As a metaphor analyst, I want to begin with the power of
the images. The images we see and recall interact with our
system of metaphors. The results can be powerful.
There are a number of metaphors for buildings. A common visual
metaphor is Buildings Are Heads, where windows and doors are
openings in the head like eyes, nose, and mouth. For many
people this metaphor interacted with the image of the plane
going into South Tower of the World Trade Center, producing
via visual metaphor the unconscious, but powerful image of
a bullet going through someone's head, the flame pouring from
the other side blood spurting out.
Tall buildings can, via visual metaphor, be people standing
erect. For many the falling of the towers activated this metaphor.
Each tower falling was a body falling.
We are not consciously aware of the metaphorical images, but
they are part of the power and the horror we experience when
we see them.
Each of us, in the prefrontal cortex of our brains, has what
are called "mirror neurons." Such neurons fire either when
we perform an action or when see the same action performed
by someone else. There are connections from that part of the
brain to the emotional centers. Such neural circuits are believed
to be the basis of empathy.
This works literally when we see plane coming toward
the building and imagine people in the building, we feel the
plane coming toward us; when we see the building toppling
toward others, we feel the building toppling toward us. It
also works metaphorically: If we see the plane going through
the building, and we unconsciously metaphorize the building
as a head with the plane going through its temple, then we
senseunconsciously but powerfullybeing shot through
the temple. If we metaphorize the building as a person and
see the building fall to the ground in pieces, then we senseagain
unconsciously but powerfully that we are falling
to the ground in pieces. Our systems of metaphorical thought,
interacting with our mirror neuron systems, turn external
literal horrors into felt metaphorical horrors.
Here are some other cases:
Control Is Up: You have control over the situation;
you're on top of things. This has always been an
important basis of towers as symbols of power. In this case,
the toppling of the towers meant loss of control, loss of
Phallic imagery: Towers are symbols of phallic power
and their collapse reinforces the idea of loss of power.
Another kind of phallic imagery was more central
here. The planes as penetrating the towers with a plume
of heat. The pentagon, a vaginal image from the air, penetrated
by the plane as missile.
A Society Is A Building. A society can have a "foundation"
which may or may not be "solid" and it can "crumble" and
"fall." The World Trade Center was symbolic of society.
When it crumbled and fell, the threat was more than to a
We think metaphorically of things that perpetuate
over time as "standing." Bush the Father in the Gulf War
kept saying, "This will not stand," meaning that the situation
would not be perpetuated over time. The World Trade Center
was build to last ten thousand years. When it crumbled,
it metaphorically raised the question of whether American
power and American society would last.
Building As Temple: Here we had the destruction of
the temple of capitalist commerce, which lies at the heart
of our society.
minds play tricks on us. The image of the Manhattan skyline
is now unbalanced. We are used to seeing it with the towers
there. Our mind imposes our old image of the towers, and the
sight of them gone gives one the illusion of imbalance, as
if Manhattan we sinking. Given the symbolism of Manhattan
as standing for the promise of America, it appears metaphorically
as if that promise were sinking.
Then there is the persistent image, day after day, of the
charred and smoking remains: it is an image of hell.
The World Trade Center was a potent symbol, tied into our
understanding of our country and ourselves in a myriad of
ways. All of what we know is physically embodied in our brains.
To incorporate the new knowledge requires a physical change
in the synapses of our brains, a physical reshaping of our
physical violence was not only in New York and Washington.
Physical changesviolent oneshave been made to
the brains of all Americans.
The Administration Frames the Event
The administration's framings and reframings and its search
for metaphors should be noted. The initial framing was as
a "crime" with "victims" and "perpetrators" to be "brought
to justice" and "punished." The crime frame entails law, courts,
lawyers, trials, sentencing, appeals, and so on. It was hours
before "crime" changed to "war" with "casualties," "enemies,"
"military action," "war powers," and so on.
Rumsfeld and other administration officials have pointed out
that this situation does not fit our understanding of a "war."
There are "enemies" and "casualties" all right, but no enemy
army, no regiments, no tanks, no ships, no air force, no battlefields,
no strategic targets, and no clear "victory." The war frame
just doesn't fit. Colin Powell had always argued that no troops
should be committed without specific objectives, a clear and
achievable definition of victory, a clear exit strategy
and no open-ended commitments. But he has pointed out that
none of these is present in this "war."
Because the concept of "war "doesn't fit, there is a frantic
search for metaphors. First, Bush called the terrorists "cowards"
but this didn't seem to work too well for martyrs who
willing sacrificed their lives for their moral and religious
ideals. More recently he has spoken of "smoking them out of
their holes" as if they were rodents, and Rumsfeld has spoken
of "drying up the swamp they live in" as if they were snakes
or lowly swamp creatures. The conceptual metaphors here are
Moral is Up; Immoral is Down (they are lowly) and Immoral
People are Animals (that live close to the ground).
The use of the word "evil" in the administration's discourse
works in the following way. In conservative, strict father
morality (see my Moral Politics, Chapter 5), evil is
a palpable thing, a force in the world. To stand up to evil
you have to be morally strong. If you're weak, you let evil
triumph, so that weakness is a form of evil in itself, as
is promoting weakness. Evil is inherent, an essential trait,
that determines how you will act in the world. Evil people
do evil things. No further explanation is necessary. There
can be no social causes of evil, no religious rationale for
evil, no reasons or arguments for evil. The enemy of evil
is good. If our enemy is evil, we are inherently good. Good
is our essentially nature and what we do in the battle against
evil is good. Good and evil are locked in a battle, which
is conceptualized metaphorically as a physical fight in which
the stronger wins. Only superior strength can defeat evil,
and only a show of strength can keep evil at bay. Not to show
overwhelming strength is immoral, since it will induce evildoers
to perform more evil deeds because they'll think they can
get away with it. To oppose a show of superior strength is
therefore immoral. Nothing is more important than the battle
of Good against Evil, and if some innocent noncombatants get
in the way and get hurt, it is a shame, but it is to be expected
and nothing can be done about it. Indeed, performing lesser
evils in the name of good is justified "lesser" evils
like curtailing individual liberties, sanctioning political
assassinations, overthrowing governments, torture, hiring
criminals, and "collateral damage."
Then there is the basic security metaphor, Security As Containment
keeping the evildoers out. Secure our borders, keep
them and their weapons out of our airports, have marshals
on the planes. Most security experts say that there is no
sure way to keep terrorists out or to deny them the use of
some weapon or other; a determined well-financed terrorist
organization can penetrate any security system. Or they can
choose other targets, say oil tankers.
Yet the Security As Containment metaphor is powerful. It is
what lies behind the missile shield proposal. Rationality
might say that the September 11th attack showed the missile
shield is pointless. But it strengthened the use of the Security
As Containment metaphor. As soon as you say "national security,"
the Security as Containment metaphor will be activated and
with it, the missile shield.
The reaction of the Bush administration is just what you
would expect a conservative reaction would be pure
Strict Father morality: The world is a dangerous place.
There is evil loose in the world. We must show our strength
and wipe it out. Retribution and vengeance are called for.
If there are "casualties" or "collateral damage", so be
The reaction from liberals and progressives has been far
different: Justice is called for, not vengeance.
Understanding and restraint are what is needed. The model
for our actions should be the rescue workers and doctorsthe
healers not the bombers.
We should not be like them, we should not take innocent
lives in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Massive bombing
of Afghanistan with the killing of innocents
will show that we are no better than they.
But it has been the administration's conservative message
that has dominated the media. The event has been framed
in their terms. As Newt Gingrich put it on the Fox Network,
"Retribution is justice."
We must reframe the discussion. I was reminded recently
of Gandhi's words: Be the change you want. The words
apply to governments as well as to individuals.
There are (at least) three kinds of causes of radical Islamic
Worldview: The Religious Rationale
Social and Political Conditions: Cultures of Despair
Means: The Enabling Conditions
The Bush administration has discussed only the third: The
means that enable attacks to be carried out. These include:
Leadership (e.g., bin Laden), host countries, training facilities
and bases, financial backing, cell organization, information
networks, and so on. These do not include the first and second
on the list.
The question that keeps being asked in the media is, Why
do they hate us so much?
It is important at the outset to separate out moderate to
liberal Islam from radical Islamic fundamentalists, who do
not represent most Muslims.
Islamic fundamentalists hate our culture. They have a worldview
that is incompatible with the way that Americans and
other westerners live their lives.
One part of this worldview concerns women, who are seen
as "pearls," objects of value and beauty to be hidden from
all men but their husbands. They are to hide their bodies,
they have no right to property, no right to travel on their
own, and so on. Western sexuality, mores, music, and women's
equality all violate their values, and the ubiquity of American
cultural products, like movies and music, throughout the
world offends them.
A second part concerns theocracy: they believe that
governments should be run according to strict Islamic law
A third concerns holy sites, like those in Jerusalem,
which they believe should be under Islamic political and
A fourth concerns the commercial and military incursions
by Westerners on Islamic soil, which they liken to the invasion
of the hated crusaders. The way they see it, our culture
spits in the face of theirs.
A fifth concerns jihad a holy war to protect
and defend the faith.
A sixth is the idea of a martyr, a man willing to
sacrifice himself for the cause. His reward is eternal gloryan
eternity in heaven surrounded by willing young virgins.
In some cases, there is a promise that his family will be
taken care of by the community.
Social and Political Conditions: Cultures of Despair
Most Islamic would-be martyrs not only share these beliefs
but have also grown up in a culture of despair that leaves
people vulnerable to the idea of martyrdom: they have little
to lose. Eliminate the conditions of despair and you eliminate
much of the breeding ground for terrorists. When the Bush
administration speaks of eliminating terror, it does not appear
to be talking about remedying cultures of despair and the
social conditions that lead one to want to give up your life
Princeton Lyman of the Aspen Institute has made an important
proposalthat the world-wide anti-terrorist coalition
being formed address the causal real-world conditions as well.
Country by country, the conditions (both material and political)
leading to despair need to be addressed, with a worldwide
commitment to ending them. It should be done because it is
a necessary part of addressing the causes of terrorismand
because it is right! The coalition being formed should be
made into a long-term global institution for this purpose.
What about the first causethe radical Islamic worldview
itself. Military action won't change it. Social action won't
change it. Worldviews live in the minds of people. How can
one change those minds and if not present minds, then
future minds? The West cannot! Those minds can only
be changed by moderate and liberal Muslimsclerics, teachers,
elders, respected community members. There is no shortage
of them. I do not know how well they are organized, but the
world needs them to be well-organized and effective. It is
vital that moderate and liberal Muslims form a unified voice
against hate and, with it, terror. Remember that "taliban"
means "student." Those that teach hate in Islamic schools
must be replaced and we in the West cannot replace
them. This can only be done by an organized moderate, nonviolent
Islam. The West may be able to help in some ways, but we alone
are powerless to carry it out. We depend on the good will
as well as the courage and effectiveness of
moderate Islamic leaders. To gain it, we must show our
good will by beginning in a serious way to address the social
and political conditions that lead to despair.
But a conservative American government, thinking of the enemy
as evil, will not take the primary causes seriously. They
will only go after the enabling causes. But unless the primary
causes are addressed, terrorists will continue to be spawned.
The Hon. Barbara Lee (D, CA), who I am proud to acknowledge
as my representative in Congress, said the following in
casting the lone vote against giving President Bush full
Congressional approval for carrying out his War on Terrorism
as he sees fit:
am convinced that military action will not prevent further
acts of international terrorism against the United States.
This is a very complex and complicated matter.
difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use
of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some
of us must say, let us step back for a moment. Let us just
pause for a minute and think through the implications of
our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.
I have agonized over this vote, but I came to grips with
it today and I came to grips with opposing this resolution
during the very painful yet very beautiful memorial service.
As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, ''As we act,
let us not become the evil that we deplore.''
I agree. But what is striking to me as a linguist is the use
of negatives in the statement: "not prevent," "restraint"
(inherently negative), "not spiral out of control," "not become
the evil that we deplore.'' Friends are circulating a petition
calling for "Justice without vengeance." "Without"
has another implicit negative. It is not that these negative
statements are wrong. But what is needed is a positive
form of discourse.
There is one.
The central concept is that of "responsibility," which is
at the heart of progressive/liberal morality (See Moral
Politics). Progressive/liberal morality begins with empathy,
the ability to understand others and feel what they feel.
That is presupposed in responsibility responsibility
for oneself, for protection, for the care of those who need
care, and for the community. Those were the values that we
saw at work among the rescue workers in New York right after
Responsibility requires competence and effectiveness. If you
are to deal responsibly with terrorism, you must deal effectively
with all its causes: religious, social, and enabling
causes. The enabling causes must be dealt with effectively.
Bombing innocent civilians and harming them by destroying
their country's domestic infrastructure will be counterproductive
as well as immoral. Responsibility requires care
in the place of blundering overwhelming force.
Massive bombing would be irresponsible. Failure to address
the religious and social causes would be irresponsible. The
responsible response begins with joint international action
to address all three: the social and political
conditions and the religious worldview and the
means with all due care.
I have been working on a monograph on foreign policy. The
idea behind it is this: There are many advocacy groups that
have long been doing important good works in the international
arena, but on issues that have not officially been seen
as being a proper part of foreign policy: the environment,
human rights, women's rights, the condition of children,
labor, international public health issues (e.g., AIDS in
Africa), sustainable development, refugees, international
education, and so on. The monograph comes in two parts.
First, the book points out that the metaphors that foreign
policy experts have used to define what foreign policy is
rules out these important concerns. Those metaphors involve
self-interest (e.g., the Rational Actor Model), stability
(a physics metaphor), industrialization (unindustrialized
nations are "underdeveloped') , and trade (freedom is free
Second, the book proposes an alterative way of thinking
about foreign policy under which all these issues would
become a natural part of what foreign policy is about. The
premise is that, when international relations work smoothly,
it is because certain moral norms of the international community
are being followed. This mostly goes unnoticed, since those
norms are usually followed. We notice problems when those
norms are breached. Given this, it makes sense that foreign
policy should be centered around those norms.
The moral norms I suggest come out of what I called in Moral
Politics "nurturant morality." It is a view of ethical
behavior that centers on (a) empathy and (b) responsibility
(for both yourself and others needing your help). Many things
follow from these central principles: fairness, minimal
violence (e.g., justice without vengeance), an ethic of
care, protection of those needing it, a recognition of interdependence,
cooperation for the common good, the building of community,
mutual respect, and so on. When applied to foreign policy,
nurturant moral norms would lead the American government
to uphold the ABM treaty, sign the Kyoto accords, engage
in a form of globalization governed by an ethics of careand
it would automatically make all the concerns listed above
(e.g., the environment, women's rights) part of our foreign
This, of course, implies (a) multilateralism, (b) interdependence,
and (c) international cooperation. But these three principles,
without nurturant norms, can equally well apply to the Bush
administration's continuance of its foreign policy. Bush's
foreign policy, as he announced in the election campaign,
has been one of self-interest ("what's in the best interest
of the United States") if not outright hegemony (the
Cheney/Rumsfeld position). The Democratic leaders incorrectly
criticized Bush for being isolationist and unilateralist,
on issues like the Kyoto accords and the ABM Treaty. He
was neither isolationist nor unilateralist. He was just
following his stated policy of self-interest.
The mistaken criticism of Bush as a unilateralist and as
uncooperative will now blow up in his critics' faces. When
it is in America's interest (as he sees it), he will work
with other nations. The "War against Terrorism" is perfect
for changing his image to that of a multilateralist and
internationalist. It is indeed in the common interest of
most national governments not to have terrorists operating.
Bush can come out on the side of the angels while pursuing
his same policy of self-interest.
The mistake of Bush's critics has been to use "multilateralism"
versus "unilateralism" as a way categorizing foreign policy.
Self-interest crosses those categories.
There is, interestingly, an apparent overlap between the
nurturant norms policy and an idealistic vision of the Bush
administration's new war. The overlap is, simply, that it
is a moral norm to refuse to engage in, or support, terrorism.
From this perspective, it looks like Left and Right are
united. It is an illusion.
In nurturant norms policy, anti-terrorism arises from another
moral norm: Violence against innocent parties is immoral.
But Bush's new war will certainly not follow that moral
norm. Bush's military advisers appear to be planning massive
bombings and infrastructure destruction that will certainly
take the lives of a great many innocent civilians.
Within a year of the end of the Gulf War, the CIA reported
that about a million Iraqi civilians had died from the effects
of the war and the embargo many from disease and
malnutrition due to the US destruction of water treatment
plants, hospitals, electric generation plants, and so on,
together with the inability to get food and medical supplies.
Many more innocents have died since from the effects of
the war. Do we really think that the US will have the protection
of innocent Afghanis in mind if it rains terror down on
the Afghan infrastructure? We are supposedly fighting them
because they immorally killed innocent civilians. That
made them evil. If we do the same, are we any less
This argument would hold water if the Bush War on Terrorism
were really about morality in the way that morality is understood
by progressives/liberals. It is not. In conservative morality,
there is fight between Good and Evil, in which "lesser"
evils are tolerated and even seen as necessary and expected.
The argument that killing innocent civilians in retaliation
would make us as bad as them works for liberals, not for
The idealistic claim of the Bush administration is they intend
to wipe out "all terrorism." What is not mentioned is that
the US has systematically promoted a terrorism of its own
and has been trained terrorists, from the contras to the mujahadeen
to the Honduran death squads to the Indonesian military. Indeed,
there are reports that two of the terrorists taking part in
The Attack were trained by the US. Will the US government
stop training terrorists? Of course not. It will deny that
it does so. Is this duplicity? Not in terms of conservative
morality and its view of Good versus Evil and lesser evils.
If the administration's discourse offends us, we have a moral
obligation to change public discourse!
the change you want! If the US wants terror to end, the
US must end its own contribution to terror. And we must also
end terror sponsored not against the West but against others.
We have made a deal with Pakistan to help in Afghanistan.
Is it part of the deal that Pakistan renounce its own terrorism
in Kashmir against India? I would be shocked if it were. The
Bush foreign policy of self-interest does not require it.
The question must be asked. If that is not part of the deal,
then our government has violated its own stated ideals; it
is hypocritical. If the terrorism we don't mind or
might even like is perpetuated, terrorism will not
end and will eventually turn back on us, just as our support
for the mujahadeen did.
We must be the change we want!
The foreign policy of moral norms is the only sane foreign
policy. In the idea of responsibility for oneself, it is eminently
practical. But through empathy and other forms of responsibility
(protection, care, competence, effectiveness, community development),
it would lead to international cooperation and a recognition
of the reality of interdependence.
I have a rational fear, a fear that the September 11 attack
has given the Bush administration a free hand in pursuing
a conservative domestic agenda. This has so far been unsayable
in the media. But it must be said, lest it happen for sure.
Where is the $40 billion coming from? Not from a rise in taxes.
The sacrifices will not be made by the rich. Where then? The
only available source I can think of is the Social Security
"lockbox," which is now wide open. The conservatives have
been trying to raid the Social Security fund for some time,
and the Democrats had fought them off until now. A week ago,
the suggestion to take $40 billion from the Social Security
"surplus" would have been indefensible. Has it now been done
with every Democratic senator voting for it and all
but one of the Democrats in Congress?
Think of it: Are your retirement contributions and
mine are going to fight Bush's "war." No one dares
to talk about it that way. It's just $40 billion, as if it
came out of nowhere. No one says that $40 billion dollars
comes from your retirement contributions. No one talks about
increasing taxes. We should at least ask just where the money
is coming form.
If the money is coming from social security, then Bush has
achieved a major goal of his partisan conservative agenda
without fanfare, without notice, and with the support
of virtually all Democrats.
Calling for war, instead of mere justice, has given the conservatives
free rein. I fear it will only be a matter of time before
they claim that we need to drill for oil in the Alaskan Wildlife
Refuge for national security reasons. Senator Murkowski has
already proposed a rider to this effect on the appropriations
bill for funding the war. If that most "pristine" place falls,
they will use the national security excuse to drill and mine
coal all over the country. The energy program will be pushed
through as a matter of "national security." All social programs
will be dismissed for lack of funds, which will be diverted
to "national security."
Cheney has said that this war may never be completed. Newt
Gingrich estimates at least four or five years, certainly
past the 2004 election. With no definition of victory and
no exit strategy, we may be entering a state of perpetual
war. This would be very convenient for the conservative
domestic agenda: The war machine will determine the domestic
agenda, which will allow conservatives to do whatever they
want in the name of national security.
The recession we are entering has already been blamed on The
Attack, not on Bush's economic policies. Expect a major retrenchment
on civil liberties. Expect any WTO protesters to be called
terrorists and/or traitors. Expect any serious opposition
to Bush's policies to be called traitorous.
has the courage to discuss domestic policy frankly at this
only sanity-preserving way to think about what happened on
September 11th is as a 'natural disaster', in which human
beings were caught up as tragic agents as well as tragic victims.
Had it been an earthquake, we would not have mourned the less,
we would not have been any the less determined to prevent
a re-occurrence. But, by now, we would have been energised
by our capacity to explain, and on the back of this to make
good and to overcome.
Our duty as scientists in response to the present crisis is
no different. We must try to explain the shifting plates of
human psychology and culture, and show why and how these can
erupt in individual acts of such madness. This is not to recommend
forgiveness no one forgives a volcano or a hurricane
but it is to oppose any interest in retribution.
When the perpetrators are brought to trial normal,
less than 'infinitely just' human trial there will
be a single, but obvious, defence: that these pathetic human
beings acted 'while the balance of the mind was disturbed'.
We must try to understand just what this meant and
Peter Von Sivers
unspeakable events of Sept. 11 have resulted in inquiries
from students, friends, and acquaintances about my reaction
as a professor of Middle Eastern history. I did a brief summary
(following below) which you might find of general interest
also for readers of Edge because it summarizes new
insights gained during the past fifteen years. Recent scholarship
has subjected the history of Islamic origins to the same kind
of historical questioning that scholars dealing with ancient
Israel, early Zoroastrianism, and early Christianity are used
to. Such a questioning, in which Islam is put into its historical
context, improves our approach to contemporary Islamic religiosity.
of New Insights On Early Islam and Their Contemporary Relevance
(1) Historically, very little is known about Muhammad, except
that he preached what can be called an Abrahamic monotheism
at the time of the Roman-Persian wars (603-630) which Christians,
Jews, and Zoroastrians interpreted according to their respective
apocalyptic traditions. Both the Koran and Muhammad's biography
are works dating with their beginnings to no earlier than
the 690s. When the Syrian and northwest Arabian Arabs conquered
their Mediterranean-Southwest Asian kingdom there was no developed
Islam around about which anything can be said with certainty.
(2) The full-blown Islam as we know it today is the result
of religious scholars writing in Iraq during the 800s and
900s and nostalgically projecting a pristine religious community
back into the desert of Arabia. (There is no archaeological
proof that Mecca existed before the Arab conquests.) This
projection took place in a cosmopolitan, sophisticated Iraq
in which wine poetry, Greek philosophy, and the Sassanian
royal cult were freely celebrated. Religious scholars designed
a utopian community in the past in opposition to the "worldly"
caliphs, their court, and the empire at large, hoping that
this community would eventually replace the "immoral" empire
(3) The Prophet biography and Koran have to be understood
as projections of a post ex facto, utopian Islam into the
Arabian desert, complete with exodus and golden age motifs.
Both exodus (purity of the desert faith) and golden age (returning
to the roots) are the defining elements of Sunni Islam. Although
there is eschatology in Sunni Islam (the Islamic empire as
the final successor of both Rome and Persia), Muslims superimposed
apocalyptic and gnostic speculations only in the Shi'i Islam
of later centuries. Usama bin Laden plays on literally interpreted,
utopian Sunni exodus and golden age motifs when he wants to
cleanse the infidels from Arabia.
(4) Obviously, it is possible to read the Koran and Prophet
biography literally and believe that early Muslims killed
Jews in Medina and gave unbelievers the choice between sword
and Koran. But as critical, modern readers we have to interpret
these verses as the result of polemical discussions among
Jews, Christians, and emerging Muslims in Iraq during the
800s and 900s when the Arab conquests had long ended. There
is no historical evidence of Jews in Medina or a Koran being
around in the 620s and 30s. Such a critical interpretation,
of course, is no different from that of the Torah and the
New Testament, some books of which also bristle with martial
passages and which we today view in their historical contexts.
We have to free ourselves from the naive essentialist and
unhistorical opinion that Christianity is pacific, Judaism
passive, and Islam martial. At most, the Koran is polemical,
but the same holds true for the seemingly so innocent Gospels.
(5) For further information I recommend the easily obtainable
paperback by the Canadian Islamist Andrew Rippin, Muslims:
Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge,
2001). For more on the non-existing Islam of the early 600s
see Ibn Warraq, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad (Amherst,
N.Y.: Prometheus, 2000). See also G.R. Hawting, The Idea of
Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999). The best summary of our current
historical knowledge of the seventh century is part 3 of Robert
G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation
of Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam
(Princeton, N.J.: Darwin Press, 1997).
(6) Finally, concerning contemporary Islamic radicals. These
radicals despise the West for what they consider the immorality,
depravity, and dissoluteness of its mass culture. In their
radicalism, they confound this mass culture with the underpinnings
of modern scientific-industrial society, such as equality
before the law, representative democracy, and economic freedom.
They see both together as seamless, satanic perversions contrary
to the golden age community of Mecca and Medina. Unfortunately,
they don't find any political leaders or intellectuals in
the Middle East courageous enough to explain to them the facts
about trivial mass culture, serious institutional underpinnings
(largely absent from Middle Eastern regimes anyway), and the
utopian Islamic golden age.
that we are alert for terrorism in the air, the next terrorist
act will not come from the sky but through biological or chemical
weapons in a public place, for example at Times Square when
the New Year's ball drops.
However, for the moment, let's focus on air travel. We've
come to realize that no amount of airport security with respect
to carry-on items will prevent a high jacking. Three strong
men armed with ball point pens and shouting that they have
shampoo bottles full of anthrax could be successful in a highjacking.
In this respect, it is not useful to overly restrict the nature
of items carried onto planes.
Instead, we should add a voice-activated system in the cockpit
such that when the pilot says the word "Zanzibar," the plane
can't be highjacked. The code word also triggers an emergency
alert to air traffic controllers. The plane is sent into autopilot
mode. Other biometric devices, such as fingerprint readers,
might be useful.
If the cockpit is to be physically isolated, a video monitor
must be installed in the cockpit so that the pilots can see
the cabin and flight attendants to check for misdoings
and also to avoid the feeling of extreme isolation that one
might encounter when locked into a small compartment for many
hours. Similarly, the flight attendants should have access
to a monitor so that they can see the pilots during conversations,
which would also reduce the feeling of imprisonment and isolation.
We should also put a toilet (or other waste collection system)
in the cockpit so that the pilots need not leave the cockpit.
In all cases, it is sad that convenience and personal liberty
will be sacrificed while prejudice is increased. Will
four men named Mohamad ever be allowed on the same plane?
and defense strategies are limited short-term responses. Given
that there are 10,000 symbolic targets, largely indefensible,
and a number of decentralized terrorist networks, these short-term
strategies while worth doing to some extent
can not be expected, by themselves, to produce an acceptable
These short-term strategies have the added risk of placing
discretion in the hands of those (military, CIA, FBI) who
to a large extent created the situation and who stand to profit
from its escalation. As we provide such people with discretion
over our resources and freedoms we should expect them to be
what they are.
A colleague in the State Department, who taught politics at
West Point for a few years, emphasized to me the divergence
of State and Defense Department mentalities. The former, at
its best, asks why, and move to create a positive win-win
relationship with the main stream of the opponent's base.
Clinton gave a talk to a Jewish group in DC just after he
left office. He spoke of two types of wounds. One should be
left alone because it is healing. That is Northern Ireland
still difficult but healing. It is healing because
the two sides have developed economic ties where each sees
the success of the other as contributing to their success.
The other type of wound needs intervention because it is not
healing and could lead to catastrophic failure. That is the
Israeli-Palestinian situation. Clinton pointed out that advancing
technology made it unlikely that attack an defense strategies
will succeed for either side.
This latter type of wound is symbolic of the larger global
situation that breeds terrorism.
The only realistic long-term strategy is to move to a new
global socio-economic strategy, a new social contract between
the developed and developing world. This is in everyone's
interest. The wounds will with difficulty heal.
Without a convincing initiative along these lines the prospect
is for the global stage to recapitulate the last forty years
of the Israeli Palestinian conflict only at
a more painful and destructive level.
James J. O'Donnell
Victor Klemperer's harrowing diaries of life as a Jew in Nazi
Dresden have been my intermittent bedside reading for many
months. In the end, Klemperer and his wife escaped deportation
and death because the firestorm bombing of Dresden set them
free, but only after a dozen years of living with the terror.
This week I find it hard to pick him up again because I suddenly
feel a small piece of what he felt a quite impersonal
fear that the world I have come to live in is more threatening
than I had surmised.
Most Americans now alive have gone their whole lives believing
they had something approaching a free pass to escape the miseries
of war, terror, and want. Now a fragment of terror easily
recognizable to those who survived the Nazis has suddenly
torn a strip off that free pass. What now?
Threat and reaction are the commonplace headlines, and measured,
decisive response to threats at every level is obviously the
order of the day. But we should look for opportunity as well.
Some will look for opportunity picking up bargains at the
stock market, but there are larger opportunities as well,
and two are of great importance:
1. One unexpected effect of World War II was to leave
behind a world that found the way to build a far more
global and integrated society than had ever existed before.
The "Cold War" distracted attention from this
effort and impeded it in parts of the world, but it is
undeniable that peoples who once hated each other from
near or from far (Germany/France, US/Japan) or merely
had little to do with each other (Euroamerica/East Asia)
now coexist, cooperate, and help build one another's prosperity
and well being. We pay now the price for incomplete globalization,
for leaving one whole swath of the world poor and angry.
However the military history of the next five months or
years proceeds, the deeper opportunity is to bring together
cultures that still live on different planets and find
the modus vivendi for them. That such reconciliation will
happen is to me certain; anxiety is in order for the short
term (the cost of reaching such reconciliation) not the
long. Building that future can and should begin immediately,
and many can participate.
2. The technologies of communication mediated by information
technology give unprecedented opportunity to support the
growth and development of collaborative community. At
the same time, the frenzies of media reaction to public
events remind us that building the public discourse is
a positive task that we all share parts of. The culture
of frivolity that has been possible in our heedlessness
is, let it be admitted, a delightful thing, but we have
now the opportunity to add to the discourse of frivolity
a more sustained and sustaining measure of the discourse
of responsibility and the long view. In global communication
of that sort is the best antidote to the waves of irrational
anxiety that many do and will experience.
Best website for this moment? The
Long Now Foundation (www.longnow.org) takes the broadest
and longest view of human possibility. If your work is not
to make a direct contribution to the aversion of new misery
(and for most of it is not), then the old, common work of
building community and possibility for ourselves and others
takes on new and rich meaning. In that spirit, I find myself
at the tail end of the day this week reading Proust instead
I continue to think science is wonderful and that in principle
it really should help us to understand human nature and the
human condition. But I continue to be disappointed by the
contributions of scientists to this end; even outstanding
Thus Martin Rees is surely right to suggest that in the future
biotech buffs might wreak enormous destruction just as computer
nerds do now with their viruses. But what's new? The Old Testament
tells of miscreants poisoning wells, with consequences way
out of proportion to the effort. (Why doesn't this happen
more often?). In principle, anyone could wipe out a city by
putting a judiciously diseased cow into the reservoir (or
perhaps a duck, notorious bearers of botulism). Genghis Khan
was among scores of highly-charged young men who at various
times have laid waste large proportions of the known world
with bands of horsemen, and by setting fire to crops and cities
(with the near certainty of epidemic to follow: one of the
principal 'dogs of war'). A question for science, sensu lato,
is why does this happen? What conditions predispose to such
outrages? Can such conditions be recognised, and forestalled?
Evolutionary psychology should be able to contribute; the
deep answers are surely not to be found in the particularities
of specific religions or ideologies, though some will obviously
prove to be more conducive than others. To reduce such outrage,
I suspect that a lot of social restructuring is necessary,
rather than a simple increase in restrictions: renewed bursts
of 'clamping down'.
But when Richard Dawkins offers thoughts with an evolutionary
theme, they are less than convincing. It simply is not the
case that young men agree to kill themselves on behalf of
the causes they believe in because they are too ugly to attract
women; and to suggest that they do so only because they have
been brain-washed to believe in harps and virgins after death
is really too ludicrous. Many a brave and handsome young man
from the kinds of schools that Richard went to himself, and
many, many more from more ordinary backgrounds, 'laid down
their lives' in the two world wars, simply from a belief that
their way of life, and their children and families, were seriously
threatened and were worth dying for and indeed that
there was no tolerable alternative. (This is good modern Darwinism
too: a variation on the theme of kin selection). Perhaps the
brave young men were deluded in their beliefs, and perhaps
not, but that is why they did it. Many knowingly committed
suicide, and they were called heroes. Polish pilots in the
Battle of Britain, their homelands gone, are reported to have
flown their planes into German bombers when their ammunition
had run out. Many people in the modern world in all kinds
of contexts feel as desperate as those Polish pilots did:
they have seen too much horror, and suffered too much privation.
They see no way forward except to attack what they perceive
to be the root cause of their problems, even at the cost of
their own lives: and some, at least, perceive the enemy to
be American capitalism. Writing the New York highjackers off
as madmen deluded by religious memes is neither accurate not
helpful. It is simply a random insult, like calling them (ludicrously)
'cowards', as Bush and Blair have done. This is the kind of
analysis that gets science a bad name.
Paul Davies's purely technical contribution surely could be
helpful rather like the technology that prevents the
bank staff getting at the serious money, so that raids become
pointless. So is Kevin Kelly's comment that knives may slip
the guard of cruise missiles (though I have heard this from
several quarters. It's common sense rather than science).
On the whole, though, the comments so far reinforce Churchill's
(I think it was) adage that 'scientists should be on tap but
not on top' i.e., they come up with some good wheezes,
but generally say nothing very much that enhances what might
be called wisdom. That is a pity. The challenge remains.
Edge question: What next?
I assume that 'What Next?" means: how can we avoid this sort
of thing in the future? There are two approaches. One is to
do with preventing terrorism at the site of action; the other
to preventing it at its origin.
The first is easy. Here's what we do:
The job of any useful anti-terrorist organization should be
to find opportunities for terrorist acts before they happen
and close any loopholes. The best way to do this is to set
up an autonomous government or even world agency
to use teams of 'terrorists' to devise, in secret, schemes
for mayhem which stop short at the final fatal deed. It could
be called World Agency Resisting Terrorism (WART).
Their activities would be unknown to the CIA or the FBI, they
would go undercover, they would infiltrate, they would do
all the things terrorists do stopping just short of
killing the pilot, dropping real anthrax, setting off the
bomb, or whatever. If they reach that final point without
being detected, they declare themselves and the next phase
begins. An official commission of inquiry will investigate
the 'disaster', calculate likely casualties, point the finger
at the culprits who failed to prevent it and order new measures
to be taken to increase security. They will also determine
massive fines to be paid by whoever has failed to prevent
the 'attack' (usually large companies) through lax
security procedures, errors of detection, etc, with the fine
related to the projected loss of life. Also, the CIA, the
FBI, and anyone else whose job it was to detect them and who
failed will be punished in some way sackings, penalties,
etc. The fines (of which there will be many in the early days
of the system) will go towards the costs of the Agency, and
pay for an exhaustive investigation of the sort that is usually
carried after a real disaster. Conversely, if the 'terrorists'
fail, there will be an inquiry to determine where credit lies
for the terrorism being thwarted and rewards will be given,
again in proportion to the likely lives saved.
The same principle can be applied to man-made disaster prevention.
Power station design and operation, chemical factories, aircraft
and other transportation technology, bridge design, all have
the possibility to cause massive loss of human life. In this
case, a different agency, Action To Avoid Catastrophe (ATAC),
will carry out its activities openly along the following lines:
it will identify some major public project or technology and
investigate its operations exhaustively. It will then attempt
to devise a scenario, however unlikely, that could result
in disaster. (The Three Mile Island Disaster Inquiry is a
model of such an investigation the problem is it should
have been carried out before the event.) If such a scenario
is impossible to devise, the company or organization is rewarded
for good practice. If a remotely plausible sequence of events
is spelt out that could result in disaster the company is
Now the second, more difficult, approach:
Violence of the sort we are trying to avoid is not, in the
end, caused only by American power and oppression, Israeli
occupation, religious antagonism, the evils of capitalism.
Such grievances are necessary but not sufficient. After all
there are many people who endure these without strapping explosives
to themselves or bombing buildings. There is always an additional
factor, almost too trite to mention the willingness
of a person to use physical violence against other people
with whom he disagrees. To reduce violence we need to understand
this. And, in various ways, we do already. There almost certainly
exist important and useful research findings from different
academic disciplines that might not be generally known to
other academics or to the world at large. In particular, there
may be practical measures, as yet untried, that could be taken
to reduce violent behaviour at every level from the individual
to the state, starting in childhood.
It may well be that violent behaviour man against man,
man against woman, man and woman against child, men against
other men within their society, one race against another,
one nation against another has common roots at whichever
level it operates. Those roots may well lie in the way individuals
react to threat or perceived threat either from the object
of their violence or elsewhere. Thus, even international conflict
may have its roots in the personal responses of statesmen
and the interaction of those responses with the psychological
makeup of the individual members of the state. If such common
factors exist, they will more easily become apparent through
the exchange of views of a wide range of academics, the wider
The insights we need do not necessarily require new research
findings. Neuroanatomy and physiology, sociobiology, experimental
psychology and psychiatry, anthropology and sociology, political
science, and analytical psychology all of these disciplines
have traditionally looked at the roots of violent behaviour
and there are research findings which can enlighten us.
There are many questions whose answers might help:
Neuroanatomy and neurophysiology where are aggressive
impulses located in the brain? Are there differences in
anatomy and physiology between normal and abnormally violent
people? What do we know of the mediators of anger and
violent behaviour in the brain? Are there ethically justified
ways of reducing violent behaviour, both pathological
and non-pathological, using this knowledge? Is it significant
that the sexes differ in aggression?
Sociobiology does inappropriate violence against
members of the same species exist in other animals? What
can we tell about violent behaviour from animal studies?
What is the evolutionary history of aggressive behaviour?
Has it evolved because it has a function?
Psychology and Psychiatry are there "criminal types"
or only criminal behaviour? What makes a violent criminal
and how can it be prevented? What are the origins of intrafamily
violence, a major contributor to the toll of murder in
developed societies? What are the mechanisms that operate
in the case of child-batterers, rapists and wife-beaters
that are absent in the rest of us when faced with similar
temptations? What links are there between childhood circumstances
and subsequent violent behaviour? Is there an innate tendency
in humans not to harm others? If so, what circumstances
lead to a reduction or elimination of this tendency? If
not, is it only the law that stops everyone killing everyone
else who stands in their way? Are there experiments that
suggest ways of modifying violent behavior?
Anthropology and Sociology is inappropriate violence
against fellow-humans present in every society at a similar
level? What can we learn from those societies that are
less violence-prone than ours? What are the mechanisms
that operate to allow representatives of one group (race,
religion, political party) to exhibit and express hostility
to another, often resulting in extremes of violent behaviour?
What role does the ability or inability to identify with
the objects of our hostility play in enabling violent
behaviour towards others? Are there useful ways of resolving
or preventing disputes?
Political science is there such a thing as a "national
character'? Are some nations more aggressive than others?
If so why? Do some nations deal more successfully with
the resolution of conflict than others? Is there any correlation
between the nature of different governing systems and
the belligerence of the state?
Analytical psychology are there links between the
behaviour and personalities of statesmen and the aggressiveness
and violence of the countries they run? Does differential
perception of threat play a part in people's threshold
Out of the answers to such questions, some known already,
can emerge a consensus for action. It would be too much to
hope that what scientists say is likely to be true will automatically
be accepted by politicians and the public. It hasn't often
in the past. But perhaps a new mood born of need will operate
to make that acceptance happen in this case, and lead to knowledge-based
actions rather than knee-jerk responses. It will be a slow
but important process and won't lead to an immediate violence-free
society. But we might get a reduced violence generation and
eventually a low violence society.
Some random thoughts:
(1) I agree with Kevin Kelly's contrarian take on the situation.
If anything, the brilliance (can I use that word pejoratively?)
of this attack was in its implicit "fuck you" to the world's
greatest technocracy as if to say: we will use your
own technology to destroy the very icons of your technological
hubris, and we will accomplish this with nothing more than
a piece of plastic and a disdain for the sanctity of life
and self-preservation that you hold so dear. After we punish
the perpetrators of this heinous crime, I think this country
needs to engage in a deep rethinking of the values
that underlie our society today. We seem to conflate our technological
supremacy, our consumerism and exultation of the free market,
with moral supremacy and military imperviousness.
(2) I am deeply perplexed by our culture's recent use of the
words "terrorism" and "terrorist", which now seem to be at
the core of an emerging definition of a breathtakingly broad
and unprecedented vision of America's foreign policy (so much
for Bush isolationism). Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's
statement that we will "end states that support terrorism",
Colin Powell's reformulated version "we're after ending
terrorism" and similar statements by our nation's political
and spiritual leadership place the onus on our government
to provide a precise definition of terms. Is bin Laden a terrorist?
What about the Taliban government? Saddam Hussein? The Pakistani
government? Hamas? The Palestinian Authority? The Israeli
government? Chechen rebels? The Russian government? KLA-supported
Macedonians? Bosnian Serbs? Michigan militiaman? Radical anti-abortion
activists? Is "terrorism" a code-word for Arab militancy?
I'm not stating a view, I'm just asking the question. Even
left-leaning people now speak of destroying terrorism "root
and branch". What are the roots of terrorism? How far and
how deeply do they extend? We can all see the leaves and some
of the branches, but the roots are less visible to the naked
eye, and they are undoubtedly where the real problem lies.
So far as I know, there is no substantive, high-profile
national dialogue about this.
This time the answers are not all in the hi-tech world of
physics and electronics, but in psychology, sociology, knowledge-assembling.
to the extent physics and computers can be harnessed to serve
those areas, hi-tech can do a job. but the human factor ,
the human thinking , dedication, perseverance; awareness ,
belief in the cause, will be much more important then just
the sheer hi-tech.
Fighting terror on board of an airplane will be many a time
, much too late.
As to Dawkins' article, people were always willing to sacrifice
their lives, more often then one may think. They are doing
it in war, elite commando units, while they are combating
crime, or rescuing other people, or in some extreme sports
(mount climbing, car racing ), or even in medicine and some
scientific endeavors, or in pursuing political causes. It
is a subject for group dynamics, education , and strong motivation
and inner belief system. Indeed in all these cases it seems
to be a calculated risk and not a certain risk. but the gap
between calculated risk and sure risk. is probably in the
minds of some people more quantitative and less qualitative,
then we tend to think.
Managing Fear. While remaining inspired to live and learn.
How do we manage our deepest fears and avoid falling headfirst
into the pit of futility. Clearly, "reality" has a new face
to it that our nation will have a very hard time facing, and
understanding, much less explaining away.
As we all struggle to make sense of the surrealness of last
week, we may find some comfort in Marie Curie's words which
still reverberate in my mind: "Nothing in life is to be feared.
It is only to be understood." It's critical we understand
the potential of people and cultures living with a certain
connectivity. Without this understanding, we're destined
to live aching in a state of chronic angst and nausea, like
Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist character Antoine Roquentin
who was 'horrified at his own existence.'
Aristotle once remarked, "Nature does nothing uselessly."
Human nature, on the other hand....In his cynical novel
Hocus Pocus, Vonnegut sums up the entire history of 20th
century as, "The complicated futility of ignorance." Wouldn't
it figure he defined High Art as "making the most of futility."
When our sense of reality blurs with futility, I fear we'll
experience more of the same migraine dramas as we did on September
11th and 12th and 13th....
I'd like to know how we can honestly address our childrens'
fears about the ultimate bogeymen: those invisible, mindless
army of suicide bombers who could strike anywhere and at anytime
using any number of weapon systems from their pirated arsenal
of NBC warfare tools. The possibilities are terrifying to
the point of inducing paralysis. For many people today, this
terror is as visceral as any flight-or-flight response
everyone "knows by heart" because it's something we all
feel without even thinking about it.
How do we help ourselves and our families and our local-global
community deal with these truly disruptive feelings? Who's
confident about using the old "crisis management" techniques
to rationally think-things-through in dealing with the most
irrational, unthinkable things?
That's what I would really appreciate hearing from any group
of thinkers who feel they have a grasp on things and can help
us get a better grip on our new reality. It seems we're all
clinging to the edges of an unknown world that is shaking
even our desire to know it.
Somehow we're going to have to face the emergent reality behind
Martin Rees's reflection on those terrors to come from under
the horizon of our fears. Because they will come. As Martin
and others have noted: 'biological advances will offer new
'weapons' that could cause world-wide epidemics, etc; moreover
such catastrophes could be caused by a single individual.'
I refuse to abandon my optimism, or succumb to pure pessimism.
I believe there is a realistic way of handling this
new world of perils and risks. But we're all going to have
to think, work, live and act together very differently than
we're currently doing. And if we choose not to, then we may
as well fold up our tents and lives, and join Albert Schweitzer
who saw it all coming when he said: "Man has lost his ability
to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the
Roger C. Schank
Educating Arabs, Educating Ourselves
Why are these people so angry at us? It is odd, but that question
is rarely voiced. It is all too easy to say that they are
crazy, but we might wonder, even so, how it is that we incurred
their wrath. They don't attack Italy or Sweden. Anyone who
has spent significant time abroad can tell you that in most
countries there is love-hate relationship with the U.S. Most
of our citizens fail to understand why this is the case and
instead back mistaken notions of patriotism, waving flags,
and talking about bombing people who don't like us. It really
isn't all about the U.S. support of Israel. That is too easy
an answer. We need to look for more difficult answers and
do the very thing the terrorists want us to do, reexamine
the role of the U.S. in the international arena. Just because
that is what the terrorists want us to do, does not make it
the wrong thing to do.
There is a technological answer to the hijacking problem of
course. The problem is that the technological answer comes
with a price. It is quite feasible to create a national identity
card and have that be used to check in at the airport. From
that point, no silly security questions need be asked. Computer
programs can be created that establish exactly the patterns
and likely actions of any passenger and determine what questions
if any should be asked by the airline personnel and whether
the passenger is a risk of any sort. Airlines could refuse
to allow on board people who don't fit their safety profiles.
This is easy to do, but it would require installation of foolproof
identity software (such as retinal scans) and make available
to the government the complete whereabouts and intentions
of every citizen. We may not be willing to give up the anonymity
that many of us cherish. On the other hand we may have to.
The biggest problem is education. When our citizens chat on
the Internet about how badly they feel, they do not become
better informed. They still think that killing a Sikh store
owner is a patriotic action. They still don't know where Afghanistan
is and what its role might be. They believe that killing one
man will end our problem. Much of our current problems stem
from how badly educated the public is. This, of course is
even more of an issue in the poorer Islamic countries. If
education were a priority in this country, and by this I do
not mean silly attempts to raise meaningless test scores,
but real attempts to get people to think long and hard about
issues that affect their lives, then maybe this wouldn't have
happened. If we created high quality on - line courses, for
example, if Harvard and Yale and other universities took seriously
their role as world educators, then perhaps what they built
could be exported to the rest of the world. If it were not
done on a for profit basis, but were offered for very little
money, then people in poor countries might qualify for better
jobs and might be able to reason more adroitly about the complex
issues they face. Instead we leave their education to mullahs
or their angry fathers in law. While we, as a nation export
television, movies and blue jeans, we do not export quality
education. Why not? Because for the most part we aren't even
interested in that kind of education for our own citizens.
No government agency is concerned with establishing reasonable
curricula for students (instead we rely on one that was established
in 1892!) or in assessing how well we are doing in creating
a nation of employable graduates who can reason critically.
Instead we focus on meaningless measures and allow schools
to do whatever they like as long as they stay within those
measures. The private universities are interested in the education
of the elite and no one looks out for the average guy. But
it is the average guys who vote, the average guys who fight,
and the average guys who sometimes act out bizarre notions