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 of retribution.
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 adeep 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 nosubstantive, 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.
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.
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 earth."
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.
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 ofThe 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 ..."
I 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.
The 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 plans.
"Globalization" 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.
Now 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?
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.
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.
Attack 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 long-term solution.
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.
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.
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 Ù the kind of weapon that "star wars 2" is supposed to defend the US against Ù 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 missile defenses.
But what terrifies me most is the potential impact of biological advances. Thousands Ù even millions Ù 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 Ù 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.
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 of Klemperer.
1. The social psychology of terrorism
What 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 extreme polarizations.
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 patriotism.
• "Self-serving bias" ensures that each party to a conflict will see its own actions and reactions as moral and laudable.
• 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.
2. Regarding Richard Dawkins' Guardian essay blaming religion
The "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 loaded guns."
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.
In his speech to Congress, Bush Ù perhaps unintentionally Ù 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 past.
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 Ù our emphasis on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness Ù 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 Ù as far back as the Holy Crusade against the Moslems Ù 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.
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 scientists.
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.
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 fined, massively.
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 better.
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 of violence?
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.
'What 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 by bin 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.
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 approaches.
Far 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 be.
If 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 effective ways?
All 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.
For 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.
Ways 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.
In 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.
Could we really move from war to deterrence to respect? I don't know, but I also don't know anything more worth trying.
To 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 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 exchange.
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 athttp://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 vulnerable targets?
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 of networks?
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 equilibrium.
To do so would be wise and enhance the quality of life for many people.
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 Edge 62).
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 better.
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 agents.
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 less fundamental.
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:
There's 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.Some key excerpts follow:
"Disconnect the Dots
Maybe We Can't Cut Off Terror's Head, but We Can Take Out Its Nodes"
By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 17, 2001; Page C01
But 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 or headquarters.
On 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 University.
"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 network."
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 keystrokes.".
In 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 aggressive.
• 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 civil society.
Adds 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 analysts note.
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 wipe out."
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 spectrum.
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?
In 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: 15%
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: 15%
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: 10%
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.
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 else.
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 planes.
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 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 terrorism.
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 deadly game.
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.
The 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 sense—unconsciously but powerfully—being shot through the temple. If we metaphorize the building as a person and see the building fall to the ground in pieces, then we sense—again 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 power.
• 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 building.
• 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.
Our 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 neural system.
The physical violence was not only in New York and Washington. Physical changes—violent ones—have been made to the brains of all Americans.
How 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 Conservative Advantage
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 it.
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 doctors—the 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 terrorism:
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.
Worldview: Religious Rationale
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.
Radical 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 by clerics.
• A third concerns holy sites, like those in Jerusalem, which they believe should be under Islamic political and military control.
• 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 glory—an 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 to martyrdom.
Princeton Lyman of the Aspen Institute has made an important proposal—that 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 terrorism—and because it is right! The coalition being formed should be made into a long-term global institution for this purpose.
What about the first cause—the 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 Muslims—clerics, 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:
I 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.
However 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 the attack.
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 andthe 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 trade).
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 care—and it would automatically make all the concerns listed above (e.g., the environment, women's rights) part of our foreign policy.
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 immoral?
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 conservatives.
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!
Be 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 ofperpetual 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.
Who has the courage to discuss domestic policy frankly at this time?
I have lots of ideas but have decided to present just one of them:
What Can The West Do To Help Islamic Countries Overcome Fanatacism
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?
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.
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.
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 emphasize:
1. Historical contributions of these countries to world culture.
2. 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 culture.
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 helped.
FRANKFURT. 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.
The 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.
According 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.
Whatever 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.
In 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 of script.
"It 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 became history.
As 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.
After 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 stupidity.
The 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.
But 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 no script.
Self-images 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.
The 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 means.
The puppet masters who orchestrated the September 11th attack might be as strategically suicidal as many people make them out to be. That assumption leads to an oft-mentioned scenario for this episode of our history. They destroy a symbol of free enterprise and thousands of civilians. We get mad and blow them away. End of story.
The future might unfolds in this way. But underestimation of the enemy has been a common cause of disaster throughout history, from the underestimation of Romans by the Teutones and the underestimation of the Parthians by Romans a half century later to underestimation of the Soviets by the Nazi's and the underestimation of the Afghans by the Soviets a half century later. Imperial Japan paid dearly for its underestimation of the destructive power of the United States a half century ago. We would be wise consider carefully the possibility that the attack at the World Trade Center is part of a clever strategy rather than simply an act of terrorism.
The horizons of analysts have generally been focused on relatively gradual escalations of destruction that can be grasped in the context of previous experiences with terrorism. We need to consider the entire spectrum of possible scenarios, particularly those on the most damaging end of the spectrum, all in the context of the possible goals of the perpetrators and the tradeoffs they would be willing to experience in order to achieve those goals. Many analysts have mentioned, for example, the danger of repeating the recent Soviet fiasco in Afghanistan, but that possibility is a relatively minor threat. The U.S. has demonstrated competence at learning from mistakes of previous engagements. The greater dangers lie in new opportunities for disaster that arise from the minds and actions of clever adversaries who do not share our values--in this case the values of technological advancement and freedoms of speech and expression.
Perhaps the most important starting point in assessing the spectrum of dangers is to recognize that our terminology may restrict our outlook. The term terrorist may not be appropriate in the current situation, because, by definition, terrorists are committing violent acts to instill terror in the target population. This term causes us to focus on our response rather than the goals of our adversaries. The perpetrators may be global nihilists and may thus be more dangerous than mere terrorists.
The first step in this line of thinking arises frequently in the discussions of the motivation of the perpetrators. It is suggests that the September 11th attack was carried out to provoke the United States and its allies to lash out against Islamic countries, thereby increasing support for the militant fringes of Islam. But the important questions is, "For what purpose?" If the finger pointing at Osama bin Laden is pointing in the right direction, we can look to his rhetoric for clues to the strategic motivations behind the attack. His rhetoric suggests that he is motivated by the American presence in Saudi Arabia because it is holy soil for Islam. He calls for American withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. But is that really his goal?
The actions of bin Laden and his associates use of economic resources to destroy the people and structures of modern society. More economic resources would allow him to create more destruction for whatever long-term goals he may have. The Saudi economic wealth seems the most attractive source of such resources. His fractious history with the Saudi government, his connections there, and his recent criticism of the Saudi government for allowing American presence in Saudi Arabia are all consistent with control of Saudi wealth as the intermediate goal of the current round of destruction. If so the emphasis on the US presence is a clever chess move. By casting the American military presence as an affront to the holiest sites of Islam, he generates animosity against the Saudi government and the US. If the US were to withdraw (for example, to reduce the animosity against the Saudi government) then bin Laden becomes more powerful because he is considered a hero and leader for many in the Islamic world; moreover, an important military barrier to the takeover of the Saudi resources is removed. If the US maintains its military presence in Saudi Arabia and especially if it uses these bases to harm civilians, then the animosity against the US and the Saudi government is heightened, again increasing support for bin Laden and his program for militant Islam.
One way to get control of Saudi wealth would be to push the situation in Saudi Arabia toward a revolution like the one that toppled the Shah of Iran. One way to so push this situation would be to make the United States so angry that it would lash out against predominantly Islamic countries, causing the death of innocent muslims. Or, if such violence could not be instigated, perhaps the rhetoric of the United States could be ratcheted up, creating the sense of a Crusade against Islam.
If Osama bin Laden understands the American mindset even moderately well, he would not expect the United States to pack up and withdraw from Saudi Arabia in response to the attack on the World Trade Center. If that were his preferred outcome the attack would have occurred against Americans or the American base in Saudi Arabia rather than on US soil, as in the Beirut model. Attacks on American soil will strengthen rather than weaken American resolve to maintain our presence in Saudi Arabia. Thus his rhetoric about the American bases in Saudi Arabia was probably crafted to get muslims inflamed against the Saudi government. His following in Saudi Arabia, his familiarity with Saudi society, and his contacts within that society may put him in a relatively good position to generate this response and to use it to topple the Saudi government.
But why control of the Saudi government? It could be just revenge, but his past actions indicate that his mode of operation involves control of the wealth and the things that wealth could by, things such as nuclear weapons. Attempts to gain large numbers of nuclear weapons by countries who would like to have them has not been particularly successful. But two points should be kept in mind. These countries did not have the economic assets of Saudi Arabia to allocate to this purpose, and the net value of nuclear weapons for most countries may be much less than for someone who wants to control a medieval world. Osama bin Laden has reportedly been attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, apparently without success. But his nest egg of a quarter billion dollars is pocket change in comparison with the wealth of Saudi Arabia. We should consider carefully, and imaginatively, what he might have planned for such weapons should he acquire them.
On the basis of statements and actions by bin Laden and his associates, the prospect of destroying modern civilization is not as unappealing for them as it would be for people who value modern civilization. It has become a cliche to talk about bombing an opponent back to the Stone Age. As Walter M. Miller has portrayed in his novel Canticle for Liebowitz, however, this cliche is probably incorrect. There would be enough steel tools, implements, and information to support a lifestyle no more primitive than that enjoyed in the Middle Ages. The life style advocated by the most severe of the militants bears a much greater similarity to medieval lifestyles than does the lifestyles of technologically advanced society. Which of the two sides would be more deterred by the prospect of being bombed back to the Middle Ages, and which side would be more likely to make such threats and carry them out if they had the weapons in hand? The jockeying between the US and USSR over nuclear weapons appears tame--even collegial--compared with the actions that could be envisioned when one side has little interest in the products of post-medieval technology, except as tools to destroy post-medieval technology.
If their intermediate goal is to replace the Saudi government through a revolution analogous to the Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah, will the US and other governments of the modern world be willing to do what is necessary to prevent it? If the Saudi government is toppled, what would these governments of the modern world be willing to do to avoid having the wealth of this region being transformed into weapons of mass destruction?
Could such mass destruction actually be accomplished by people who seem to interested in using modern technology primarily to destroy modern technology? The destructive power of modern technology is great--only a tiny fraction of it has ever been used. One wouldn't need thousands of nuclear bombs to bomb civilization back to the Middle Ages, perhaps only a few hundred, well placed in the centers of modern civilization, and enough planning to detonate them simultaneously.
It is not just enough for the modern governments to think like the enemy. For democratic societies the general public must also do so, because government action is dependent on public support. The emotional responses of the public and the action that they take and advocate can either ameliorate or exacerbate the threat. Usurpation of mid-east wealth by global nihilists could have catastrophic consequences that dwarf the effects of the World Trace Center attack. Recognizing this difference can be important in generating public support for activities the reduce the chances of revolutions in countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Lesser threats may also be altered by public awareness and action. One of the best example concerns biological weapons. As I argued in a recent book (Plague Time, Free Press:NY), biological weapons are not particularly effective weapons for terrorists. For the same reasons they would not be particularly good weapons for global nihilists. Rather than weakening resolve their use would tend to galvanize. The threat of biological weapons, however, generates concern because the damage they could cause is repulsive and potentially pervasive. If the public realizes this difference between their use as a threat and as a weapon, and are prepared to withstand the impact of their use, their effectiveness as a threat diminishes.
The relative ineffectiveness of pathogens as weapons does not mean that they will never be used, but it does mean that we might be able to reduce the possibility of their use by making their net effectiveness even less than it already is. One of the best ways to lower their effectiveness is vaccination. Those who are making decisions about public health have been slow to move in this direction, apparently because they are applying guidelines that are appropriate in the absence of terrorist threats to situations in which such threats are manifest. The tradeoffs in these two circumstances are different.
It would be ethically questionable to require that everyone use a vaccine such as the vaccine against smallpox, which, like most vaccines, imposes a small probably of serious adverse effects (one in ten-thousand to one in a million vaccines depending on the adverse effect and the care in assessing associated risks). However, choosing not to produce and make available a vaccine such as the smallpox vaccine is also ethically questionable for several reasons, the most obvious being that unvaccinated people may die or becomes seriously ill during an attack. In addition, the ability to administer vaccines safely may be diminished during a crisis situation and people who might have been at a low risk for severe side effects prior to the attack might have developed conditions that place them at high risk by the time of the attack (conditions such as immunosuppression or eczema, for example). Perhaps most importantly, the greater the proportion of the population that is vaccinated, the greater the probability of deterring such an attack. If a population is mostly immune through vaccination, terrorists would have little impetus to initiate an attack, which would tend to make them look impotent and incompetent. In a situation such as the current one, getting vaccinated against smallpox could therefore be considered an activity that contributes to the defense not just of the vaccinated individual but to the country as a whole. Making the relevant vaccines available along with the relevant information about benefits and risks is the ethically sound alternative.
Unfortunately, because those making the key decisions has been so slow to recognize these tradeoffs, there are now woefully insufficient numbers of the relevant vaccines. According to the current schedule, vaccines against smallpox, for example, will not be generally available in until 2004. It is incredible to hear experts argue, as they have for several years, that a suitable vaccine against smallpox cannot be made widely available, even though one had been generally available for most of the past two centuries.
When evaluating and preparing for possible scenarios we need to shift mentally from considering the problem from the perspective of the targets to the perspective of the perpetrators. When we do so the threat of biological weapons shifts from being a primary concern to a secondary concern. This threat could be shifted further to a tertiary concern for particular pathogens if an educated public takes action by encouraging development of and access to vaccines, and by becoming vaccinated.
If the instigators World Trade Center attack really are terrorists rather than global nihilists, then some of the preparations may be overreaction. But most of these preparations should still be useful for terrorists. Access to vaccination is useful in either category of attacker, as is the avoidance of harm to innocent civilians. Taking actions that precisely target those who have carried out and who are planning to carry out attacks should be beneficial in either case, but especially for global nihilists because it removes the immediate threat and the long-term threat associated with recruitment.
Some actions (such as support of Saudi government and provision of vaccines against the most dangerous pathogens) can reduce the attackers' estimates of success. If these estimates are reduced sufficiently, attempts may be postponed. Postponement buys time for countermeasures, and perpetual postponement is equivalent to a permanent protection.
With regard to military options, before we race in to attack we should assess whether the attack is part of the enemy's next move. Overenthusiasm for an attack together with underestimation of the enemy's strategy led the Romans to be slaughtered by the Parthians, and the Soviets to be slaughtered by the Afghans. The current situation offers few military targets and a great potential for collateral damage to civilians, while modern technology offers new and powerful strategies for attacks against us. As we plan our actions to neutralize the enemy in response to the World Trace Center attack, we need to assess and prepare for new ways in which overenthusiasm for a counter-attack could be part of the enemy's plan for a much greater slaughter. Because our long-term strategy depends on their long-term strategy, gaining intelligence information about their long-term goals may be as important as gaining information about their locations and plans for attacks.
We know there will never have another hijacking. The heroes on flight 93 adapted and fought back when they learned (via cellphone) that other flights turned into missiles.
From now on, every person on an airplane will work to overwhelm any hijacker, even if equipped with Uzi's instead of plastic bagel knives. We don't need a federal air police. We can even take down the X-ray scanners.
The game has changed.
Consider this a phase transition in psychological evolution. I wonder whether another phase transition is possible.
Whoever directed the military attack last week was extremely sophisticated:
• to steal identities a decade ago,
• to know that Saudi pilots are allowed to immigrate,
• to learn to fly 747's,
• to expect docility from travellers based on the history of hijackings,
• to sell the airline stocks short, and
• to do structural simulations of the WTC to estimate strike speed and altitude.
So why would we assume such a sophisticated covert operation couldn't predict and exploit America's likely reaction?
In times like these, we revert from individuals to a bacteria colony. In times like these, Apple Computer could temporarily change its slogan to "Don't Think Different!" to stimulate sales.
Consider, with some pain: The JFK assassination, TWA flight 800, Pan Am 103, KAL flight 007, Iraqi incursion into Kuwait, the bombing of the Murrah building. Remember each aftermath. My recollection is that the American public has been ready to go to war each time. Therefore the attacker last week could anticipate the US reaction.
The behavior of masses, especially in response to strong stimuli, is quite predictable, and the science explaining it originated in the 1890's and was perfected by the 1950's and 60's. I'm not an expert, but I know coherent masses (Crowds) form especially in reaction to events, and all members of the crowd begin to express the same extreme opinion, and follow the leader. Imitation effects, authority effects, and fear of being different all drive the feedforward loop. We could simulate it on a computer, just like we simulate ant colonies or groups of robots.
The direction of the crowd can be modulated by information. if our leaders can convince us that it was a lone crazy, or an accident, or a renegade band of our own ex-special-forces, passions might subside. But name a foreigner and we must attack.
My "What now?" question is whether we can ever overcome our own mass psychology. Can humanity achieve group adaptation at the cognitive level?
If we were bacteria, we wouldn't avoid the fruiting body. If we were ants, we wouldn't abandon the pheremone trail, If we are lemmings, we wouldn't opt out of our mad dash.
But we are humans. I pray we can someday rise above our own mass psychological reactions to achieve a deeper strategy than those who pull the triggers or those who guide the crowd's reaction.
We need another psychological phase transition.
Otherwise, brains are going to lose the war to genes.
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 pro-social charities.
(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 in wine-production.
(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.
The technology explosion of the past 30 years has complicated both government's role in, and citizens' desire for, privacy. Citizens demand safety while law enforcement believes it needs timely access to information that flows over networks. With the availability of cryptographically sophisticated mechanisms such as public key systems, we have a world where a vast amount of personal and public information streams wildly over digital systems such as the Internet, POTS (plain old telephone systems), wireless, and satellites.
After the tragic attack of September 11th, the Bush administration is calling for, and receiving, increased powers to listen to our conversations, monitor our e-mail, see who and where we visit in cyberspace — all with the stated intention of protecting us from terrorists. I could fill this column with the implications of the mechanisms that have been proposed for aiding law enforcement. As with any legislative mechanism behind which there is so little technical understanding, many of the changes may create greater dangers than they hope to eliminate. I would like, however, to focus on the security of the basic communications infrastructure we count on.
Turtles upon Turtles
The Internet was built in a university research atmosphere where the problems of creating a working system took priority. As the Internet grew, developers had neither time nor energy to address security. Suddenly we had an insecure network underpinning our industrial might and daily lives.
Consider what would have happened if, in addition to the attacks on New York and Washington, a concentrated physical and cyber attack had been made on the Internet. As the people who are technically responsible for the network, we'd better make sure such an atttack does not happen.
One might suggest that we patch the holes to fix the vulnerabilities, but most discussions on Internet security find turtles upon turtles — security problems on security problems. So what do we do? For the current-generation Internet, patches might be the only answer. Or perhaps regulatory authorities should demand Internet-wide management mechanisms. (I suggest this with real hesitation, but it may be the only path). That does not mean, however, that we should not strongly support holistic research attacks on the security issues to see if out-of-the-box thinking can help.
Untangling the Contradictions
We are about to take a dramatic technical step forward in communications technology with the arrival of end-to-end optical communications links. The very speed of these links (~60 Gbytes/wave) and vast number of waves possible demand a new examination of the Internet's structure and of the architectures of computer hardware and operating systems. This is an excellent time to make security fundamental to any real next-generation network. Information security and network resource protection must be a requirement, not an option.
I started this column talking about the privacy implications of 9/11 with respect to law enforcement. I close with a plea for end-to-end security for future networks. These might seem like contradictory aims, but they both seem to be requirements in the post-9/11 world. The technical community must provide the research needed to understand the nature of the contradictions and to find the path forward. It is equally important that we involve ourselves in continuing efforts to preserve liberty as well as safety.
The U.S. in the most highly educated and highly entertained country on earth. We export entertainment. All around the world, people, watch American television and see the latest Hollywood movies. But, instead of exporting education we import the best and brightest of every country, educate them in the U.S, and keep them here. The time has come to seriously consider how we can create an education industry to rival the entertainment industry.
Many of our current problems stem from how badly educated the public is, both here and abroad. Education should be a real priority in this country. 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. If we as a nation take seriously the idea of building high quality on-line courses that can be delivered anytime anywhere to people who have never had access to such educational opportunity before, we can change the world. If the best and the brightest in this country took seriously their role as world educators, then 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. 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 guy who votes, the average guy who fights wars, and the average guy who sometimes acts out bizarre notions of retribution.
To radically reform our education system we need to focus on three issues. what we teach, how we teach, and how we deliver teaching. Working backwards, delivery must be on line. The internet offers the possibility of educating everyone equally, with greater opportunities for the expression of individual differences. Students would be able to take whatever they like whenever they like. Certifying authorities could be located anywhere. Interactions would be of two types primarily: courses that are mentored on line by teachers who evaluate work products submitted by students, and courses where the computer itself provided the evaluation.
The method of instruction would have to be learning by doing. This method of education has long been understood at least as far as Aristotle and probably before that) as the best method of learning. It is has not been used in schools because it is difficult to implement in a classroom setting. It is not difficult to implement on a computer. In fact, the computer facilitates this type of learning through the creation of exciting simulations and the use of one on one instruction by the best and the brightest, captured beforehand, with mistakes in the simulations linked to instruction about those mistakes. In this way students receive the instruction that they need when they need it and can go at their own pace.
The big issue is what to teach. The curriculum of our high schools was established in 1892. Our university system is based on the original ideas in place at the elite universities hundreds of years ago which were focused on the education of the elite and not in the production of employable adults. Early childhood education is focused on preparation for high school. These curricula, in place for decades cannot be changed because there are so many vested interests that want to keep things as they have always been. The construction of fully on line, learning by doing courses not only allows for a different method of instruction but for the possibility of reconsidering the curricula that are the current basis of our school system.
Broadly speaking, school ought to cover issues of living in the real world (getting along with other, raising a family, basic finance), job preparation, mental acuity (reasoning, argumentation, real world problem solving, basic skills (writing, speaking, critical analysis, business, medicine) as well as more purely academic subjects (these might include history in the context of decision making, or mathematics in the context of engineering or some other useful application). Whatever subjects are chosen, the best people in the world can be put to the process of designing courses in their ares of expertise for the various age levels in a school population. An archive of expertise (in video) should be assembled and linked to courses so that the best and brightest will be available to all students for all time.
Courses of the type I am describing cost about $50,000 per instructional hour to build. Thus, a forty hour course might cost $2,000,000 to build. The reality is that courses themselves are an archaic idea and the idea that instruction takes 40 hours is ridiculous. But, we know the costs associated with that length of course and since the courses we have built typically are broken into the smaller bits that would form the basis of any new system, from a cost point of view it makes no difference.
Thus, the basic costs, assuming five 40 hour courses per semester, means that in any given grade, it would cost $10,000,000 per semester to build the on line curriculum. Thus, it costs $20,000,000 per grade and for K-college, the cost is $340,000,000. This would be fine if there were to be no alternatives and everyone took exactly the same curriculum. The whole idea of on-line courses is that everyone can study what they want. We assume therefore that K 6 might offer at least 6 different curricula that would keep maybe half of what is taught the same for everyone for a total of $280,000,000. Grades 7-12 would require at least 20 different curricula, for a total of $400,000,000 per grade or a total of 2.4 billion.
Thus, for a total of about 3 billion dollars we could reform our K-12 system for generations to come and help educate the world in the process. College is extra.
I do not think you can discuss the bombings and not talk about mideast policy and a lot of other social issues. Kevin Kelly is quite right, the bombings have nothing to do with technology; they are about social rage and pain. This is my hard-edged comment after many years of feeling some of that pain as I watched the brutal politics that produced it.
I agree that there is a lot of talent, expertise and intelligence in this group. I think the proper response to these attacks is an intense public focus on the reasons for them; teach-ins on the model of the Vietnam teach-ins of the sixties; work by artists and intellectuals to integrate the cultures of the two sides; strong political resistance to attempts to militarize and police America and the world in the name of security. That's for starters. There is going to be plenty to do.
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.
What happens now is that we (by which I mean the West) eradicate state-sponsored terrorism. And we can achieve that only by replacing all political systems that perpetrate or collaborate with terrorism, by systems that respect human rights both domestically and internationally.
This will require, first of all, war. Then, it will require spectacular success at the notoriously difficult task of improving other nations' political systems. But we have done such things before: we did it for Germany and Japan in 1945. We have also failed many times at it. We must succeed this time.
But more: it will require changes in us. In our conception of the political landscape. It will take violations of old taboos and the creation of new understanding and new traditions. Genuinely this time, it will require the creation of a new and better world order. At a moment like this, people like those gathered here — Edge contributors — surely have a great deal to offer.
I haven't read all the contributions. I agreed with much of what I read, disagreed with some. But I found little of what I had hoped for.
Richard Dawkins, as usual, talked sense, and made several true and timely points. He praised America as "the principal inheritor, and today's leading exponent, of European scientific and rational civilisation", and he broke a taboo by pointing out that this is "the highest civilisation ever". He took sides: "I want to stand up as a friend of America" — as do I. But in one important respect, his remarks did not seem to me to reach the heart of the issue. He blames religion, and our convention of "respecting" it. Now, I am no advocate of religion, but religious belief is surely not central to the present disaster. There are plenty of terrorists at large who are not pursuing any religious agenda. There are notorious sponsors of terrorism who are driven by nationalist or socialist ideologies, not religious dogma. And there are plenty of religious zealots who are no danger to anybody (except themselves and their unfortunate wives and children).
That is not to deny that mainstream Islamic culture has exhibited a major moral failure. It seems to struggle even to find the language and the conceptual framework genuinely to oppose the crimes that are committed in its name. Large numbers of peaceful Muslims find themselves in effect condoning mass murder, and painfully few can bring themselves to side with the victims now exercising their right of self defence. Nevertheless it is not the tenets of Islam that have caused the present violence. This is a political evil we are facing, not a religious one. And it is a modern evil, not an ancient one.
Moreover, mainstream Western culture has also exhibited a major moral failure: a refusal to distinguish between right and wrong. The unique glories of our civilisation — self-criticism, tolerance, openness to change and to ideas from other cultures — have in many people's minds decayed, under this moral failure, into self-hatred, appeasement, and moral relativism.
For instance, Freeman Dyson begins his contribution by attributing the First World War to an excess of zeal in fighting terrorism. His "What Now?" is that we must "stop telling the rest of the world how to behave" and instead "learn to live with the world as it is, not as we want it to be". He also describes his youthful sympathies with the Nazi bombers who in 1940 were dropping death on London, the "citadel of oppression" in which he lived. Of the recent suicide attacks he says: "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". It is ironic that he shows so much empathy with the pilots who murdered thousands in the cause of evil, and so little for those who are at this moment risking their lives to destroy a genuine citadel of oppression.
But this is no coincidence. Moral relativism always sees itself as evenhanded, and indeed it begins with a retreat from judgement or taking sides. But in practice it always entails siding with wrong against right. I said that we need to change. Here is something that desperately needs to change. A colleague wrote recently: "Despite the morality of responding in self-defence to a terrorist attack, I am thinking about how to find solutions that do not include tit for tat." Yet nothing that the West has done so far, or has threatened to do, or has proposed to do, has involved any hint of tit for tat. The idea that it does, is another example of the moral relativism that has pervaded far too much of Western thought and policy making, and is an integral part of what caused the attacks. In reality, the impulse for revenge plays no significant role in the political culture of the West. If it did, then the vast, peaceful, humane and diverse civilisation of the West itself would not be possible.
It is not true that the recent attacks on the US were motivated by a state of mind similar to that which is currently motivating the Western response. The Western stance — and even Western mistakes, including appeasement and moral relativism — are driven fundamentally by respect for human beings, human choices and human life. Western values are life-affirming and life-seeking. The murderers worship death. There is no symmetry between life and death.
There is no "cycle of violence" that we have to "break" by making the murderers and their sympathisers feel less angry with us. Their anger is unjustified: To cleanse the Arabian peninsula of non-Muslims is an immoral aim, violating the human rights both of non-Muslim residents and of Muslims who wish to associate with them (and, perhaps more pertinently, to seek their assistance in defending themselves). To cleanse Israel of Jews is an aspiration similar in kind but much more evil both in its racist motivation and in its intention to destroy an entire nation. To replace secular or less-than-fundamentalist governments by religious fundamentalist ones in all Islamic countries is an utterly tyrannical agenda. And there is a fourth unjustified 'grievance' that goes implicitly with those three: they demand the right to punish the West, by mass murder, with impunity, if anyone in the West opposes them in pursuing any of those other 'grievances'.
In contrast, the West's anger, and the West's restrained, careful and humane response in self-defence, are justified. The problem is not to find alternatives to defending ourselves against murderers. The exact opposite is true: this violence will end if and only if we defend ourselves, effectively. And effectiveness will depend in part on our saying truthfully what we are doing, and why our stance is not essentially the same as theirs.
You can perceive our stance and theirs as symmetrical only by expunging morality from your analysis: seeing all political objectives as being legitimate, all rival value systems as matters of taste, treating murderers and their victims with evenhanded sympathy. You have to look at tolerance and its opposite, intolerance, and pretend that they are two versions of the same thing. You have to pretend that the richness and diversity and creativity of our civilisation are playing the same role in our lives as empty repetition, oppression, and pitiless enforcement of a monoculture play in theirs.
People wring their hands and say that there must be "better ways of finding solutions" than warfare. Of course there are. We have already found them. The nations and people of the West use them all the time. They are openness, tolerance, reason, respect for human rights — the fundamental institutions of our civilisation. But no way of finding solutions is so effective that it can work when it isn't being used. And when a violent group defines itself by its comprehensive rejection of all the values on which problem-solving and the peaceful resolution of disputes depend, and embarks instead on a campaign of unlimited murder and destruction, it is morally wrong as well as factually inaccurate to represent this as a case of our needing "better ways of finding solutions". That is why we have to insist, by force if necessary, that everyone else in the world also respect, and enforce, the minimum standards of civilisation and human rights. Western standards.
One last thought. If I am right that there has been a moral failure in the West despite — and in a way, because of — the moral superiority of Western political culture over that of its enemies, then there is also a second irony. One may argue about the precise role of religion in the terrorists' mindset, but Mr Blair and Mr Bush, both of them religious believers who purport to derive their moral stances from their religions, are certainly not part of the problem: on the contrary, they are leading the solution. Mr Bush, speaking to an audience of children, addressed the question that everyone has asked: "Why would somebody hate so badly"? And he replied: "my answer is, there's evil in the world. But we can overcome evil. We're good." This is the simple truth — a truth on which all our futures depend — yet the moment Mr Bush uttered it, all the intellectuals in the Western world winced. Even those who, like myself, agreed with the proposition, winced, vicariously, because we recognised the intensity of the taboo that was being broken.
How many non-believers would have been capable of giving the right answer to that question? President Bush was able to answer it, and to articulate the explanation, and to use it as an essential element of national policy, not especially because he knows it intellectually but because he understands it in his gut. And the process by which it got into his gut was intimately connected with his religion. I must hasten to add that this process also entrenched there a slew of wrong ideas. Nevertheless, civilisation will survive the miscellaneous evils that one finds in a mature, Western religion — such as Bush's opposition to abortion, and the like. But it would not, pace Richard Dawkins, survive the typical non-believer's (pre-September-11) take on the nature of morality. We non-believers have failed too. What comes next is that we must correct that failure, by incorporating into the Western tradition of critical rationalism an objective conception of right and wrong.
Several newspapers have called me to ask how many handshakes separate us from someone who worked in the WTC. Using the sociologists' best estimate of about 300 acquaintances per person in the US, and assuming no overlap in anyone's friendship circles (very crude but no one knows how to do better), I estimate that about 1 in 20 of us knows someone who worked in WTC. If you go one more step, essentially everyone in the US is just two handshakes away. And two degrees of separation feels intimate — we know what friend of a friend means, intuitively — whereas three is much more nebulous. In other words, there's a psychological gulf, a transition, right between 2 and 3, and we are all on the intimate side of that gulf. I think that has something to do with why the horror feels so close.
How will we see September 11 in hindsight? Was it an "act of war?" Or was it "a crime against humanity?" Our actions in the coming weeks will depend on how we think and talk about what's happening. Alternative scenarios can help to frame these acts so we can make sense of what seems like senseless tragedy.
Scenarios can provide anticipatory disaster relief, a way of avoiding trouble by rehearsing futures in our minds so we don't have to live them as fact. Alternatively, scenarios can inspire us to raise our sights. By imagining positive outcomes, we can see more clearly the steps that will be necessary to get there.
The following scenarios offer such food for thought. The first, Jihad, is dark indeed. The second, One World, paints a future worth working for.
Paris, July 12, 2003: Today's attack on the Eiffel Tower continues the string of international incidents. If only the Americans had listened when Chirac insisted that it wasn't a "war".
Like many a commander in chief who lost a conflict by confusing it with the last war, the Americans thought they could mobilize their military might to defeat the terrorists. They sent their ships and planes toward Afghanistan. They did their best to smoke out Osama bin Laden to catch him on the run. They tried desperately to find a battle they could win . . . but there was none. The enemy was elusive, invisible, dispersed.
America wanted action, retribution, and the punishment of the perpetrators. Surely the massed might of America would be sufficient to find and eliminate the enemy. So America went to war.
Trouble was, Chirac was right: It wasn't really a war. At first it looked like Bush "got it." There was talk of "a different kind of war." The first strikes were "surgical," very little "collateral damage." But just when the Americans were celebrating their "victory," the second one hit, the atrocity at the World Series. Enraged by that diabolical choice of targets, America lashed out with less discrimination. You want terror? We'll show you terror! And a terrible attack rained down from the heavens over Afghanistan.
And that was just what Osama bin Laden wanted-an escalation from crime to war. Pictures of maimed women and children helped to unite the Islamic world against America. What had begun as an exchange of carefully focused rapier thrusts now turned into a brawl between the military might of America and every Muslim, every anti-globalist, every disenfranchised child of poverty, both within and outside the borders of the U.S.
Throughout 2002, massive air strikes by the U.S. were followed by terrorist attacks in the least likely places ‹ a shopping mall in Toledo, a high school graduation in Austin, a rock concert in London, the assassination of a governor, the kidnapping of a group of business executives.
By the end of 2002 the terror had created massive paranoia. People stayed home. Restaurants and theaters remained empty. Businesses shut down. The Dow dipped to triple digits.
Like the "war on poverty," like the "war on drugs," this "war on terrorism" looks like it will drag on and on. How can it end now that the war has escalated while one side remains invisible?
New York, July 12, 2003 Today ground was broken for the new World Trade Center. It won't be as tall as the old one, but its reach will be even broader. In the weeks and months following the attack in 2001, the community of great nations got bigger. United by the common cause of uprooting terrorism all over the world, countries like Russia and China acquired an increased respect for the rule of law. Pakistan and Syria came in from the cold. The stick of American power loomed large, but the carrot of peace and prosperity loomed larger.
Focusing on global "crime," America refrained from indiscriminate attacks and relied instead on special forces, covert operations, and some very good investigative police work. As a result, America managed to walk the fine line between appeasement on the one hand, and on the other a show of force that would have united the Islamic world in a jihad against the U.S.
Walking that fine line wasn't easy. People were impatient. The pain was deep. But this crime against humanity led to humane responses: Not only heroic rescue efforts and an outpouring of generosity, but also a soul-searching quest for what is most important in life. No sympathy for the criminals. After seven long months of searching, they were found and punished. But the patient precision of their defeat saved the world from decades of descent into senseless bloodshed.
What is the moral of these two scenarios? It makes a big difference whether you talk about the tragedy of September 11 as an "act of war" or as "a crime against humanity."
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 is present.
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.
"Discrimination 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 policy.
Imagine a distant time when some people noticed that a piece of floating rock pointed somewhere. Eventually, they noticed that all similar floating rocks seemed to point in the same direction. Let's say that they called this floating-rock pointing-direction North. Over time, this North began to take on very important qualities, becoming more and more significant, more and more great. Yes, over time, these people came to worship the great and magnificent North.
Imagine that some other people also noticed that pieces of floating rock all pointed in the same direction. Only these floating rocks didn't point towards the North; they pointed towards the South. And, overtime, these people came to worship the magnificent and great South. To them, nothing could be imagined to be more essential to their very survival than the marvelous South.
Then, wandering, as all people tend to wander, these groups devoted to the North and those groups committed to the South met each other.
No, it wasn't pretty. Yes, it was war.
However fanciful to our sensibility this might seem, this sort of conflict surely isn't unimaginable.
Not understanding that North and South are merely antipodes of a common "environmental field" as we so surely understand these people-from-a-distant-time wouldn't have grasped that they were both committed to the same environment. Earth. They wouldn't have comprehended that they were all dependent on both the North and the South . . . neither of which could exist without the other.
How does this relate to the Edge question, "What Now?"
Consider the possibility that we are now struggling to overcome our own lifetime's "War of The Antipodes."
"Modernism" and "Anti-modernism." Our antipodes. Our war.
Both originated (over and over) at the same times and in the same places. Both are completely dependent on the same environment, the same "field."
As demonstrated by the "Fundamentalism Project," we live in a world of "fundamentalisms" which share a great deal in common, starting with the arresting observation that they are all newly organized social phenomenon.
These "fundamentalisms" (or "anti-modernisms") simply couldn't exist without their corresponding "modernisms." Likewise, the other way around. As with all antipodes, their mutual interdependence is essential. Radically essential.
Yes, I did say "overcoming" a few paragraphs ago.
For, it would seem that just as antipodal analysis directs our attention away from the antipodes themselves to their common field, this re direction frees us to ask the question, "What is happening to the underlying field and how is that reflected in the activities at the antipodes?"
For, if the field is undergoing radical transformation and if the earth (or the ground) upon which these antipodes mutually depend is undergoing a revolution, then we might expect to observe some activity, even some disturbances at the antipodes.
Osama Bin Laden. Al Queda. Eqyptian Islamic Jihad. These are a group of type-related antipodes and, apparently, they are very upset. Very disturbed.
I am suggesting that this disturbance reflects their sense that they finished . . . that their relevance as antipodes is about to collapse.
I am further suggesting that they are indeed finished and that this is a reflection of changes in their underlying field.
"Anti-modernism" and "Modernism" alike . . . no longer relevant. Both no longer important. Both upset. Both disturbed. Both obsolete antipodes.
(Indeed, John Brockman's entire "Third Culture" project could be partially understood as an attempt to address disturbances in the "modernist" antipode.)
So, what now for all those who have committed themselves to one or the other (or some combination) of these (or other) antipodes?
What's a "Modernist" to do? What's an "Anti-modernist" to do? What is any "Antipodist" to do?
Go to war like those good Antipodists who were once committed to the South and the North, in distant times?
Yes, to be sure, this is exactly what many of them will do.
But, I suspect that some others understand that, like the North and the South of yore, it is what all antipodes depend upon — in common — that is much more important than the antipodes themselves . . . particularly in times of great antipodal instability.
And, if, as I'm suggesting, we are already living in a new environmental field, perhaps we should devote some serious attention to this new ground while we struggle to discard the obsolete antipodes to which we had previously committed our lives.
That is, if we wish to answer the burning question, "What Now?"
If we are to avert even worse disasters, we need to understand what caused the events of Sept. 11. It's clear that Osama bin Laden is a really bad guy, and these were really misguided people, and we need to do something about disabling them in the future. But if we are to ever return to a more lasting state of peace, we have to address the root causes of terrorism. The best method to control something is to understand how it works.
Randomness and determinism are the poles that define the extremes in any assignment of causality. Of course reality is usually somewhere in between. Following Poincare', we say that something is random if the cause seems to have little to do with the effect. Even though there is nothing more deterministic than celestial mechanics, if someone gets hit in the head by a meteor, we say this is bad luck, a random event, because their head and the meteor had little to do with each other. Nobody threw the meteor, and it could just as well have hit someone else. The corresponding point of view here is that bin Laden and his associates are an anomaly, and the fact that they are picking on us is just bad luck. We haven't done anything wrong and there is no reason to change our behavior; if we can just get rid of them, the problem will disappear. This is the view that we would all rather believe because the remedy is much easier.
The other pole is determinism: There were underlying causal factors that led up to these events, and something like this was bound to happen. This is a much harder view to swallow, because deterministic events are by their very nature predictable and controllable. It leads to the conclusion that we might have anticipated these events and done something about it.
With any chaotic system there are two fundamentally different approaches to prediction and control. One is to predict the detailed trajectory that the system will take. For simple systems like roulette wheels, turbulent fluids, and stock markets, I have a lot of experience with this. To predict the trajectory of something, you have to understand all the details and keep track of every little thing. This is like solving terrorism by surveillance and security. Put a system in place that will detect and track every terrorist and prevent them from acting. This is a tempting solution, because it is easy to build a political consensus for it, and it involves technology, which is something we are good at. But if there is one thing I have learned in my twenty five years of trying to predict chaotic systems, it is this: It is really hard, and it is fundamentally impossible to do it well. This is particularly so when it involves a large number of independent actors, each of which is difficult to predict. We should think carefully about similar situations, such as the drug war: As long as people are willing to pay a lot of money for drugs, no matter how hard we try to stop them, drugs will be produced, and smugglers and dealers will figure out how to avoid interception. We have been fighting the drug war for more than thirty years, and have made essentially no progress. If we take the same approach against terrorism we are sure to fail, for the same reasons.
The other road to prediction and control is to change the system in a more fundamental way. Change the parameters and get rid of the behavior you don't want. This is hard too, because it involves a deeper level of understanding and more fundamental change. But it has the advantage that, when you can do it, it is more stable, more reliable, and a much better solution. This corresponds to finding the root causes of terrorism and altering the political landscape so that it dies out. This will be very hard, but it has the enormous advantage that it might actually work.
When I was a high school student I lived in South America for a year. It came as a shock to me to discover how much people hated Americans. Living with a Peruvian family, and hanging out with Peruvian teenagers, I came to see things from their point of view, and to understand how arrogant and self aggrandizing Americans can be to people who live at a great distance, when the consequences are not visible, and few Americans at home know what is really happening.
This horrible disaster has made me reflect on another that killed a similar number of people. Imagine what it would have been like to see the American supported coup in Chile in 1972 if we had CNN giving us the blow-by-blow on video. Suppose we had all seen the people gunned down in the stadium, being tortured with cattle prods, getting punished for their crime of supporting their democratically elected government? I bring this up not to diminish the awfulness of what happened in New York, or to argue for moral relativism, but just to make it clear that there are some very real reasons why some foreigners don't like us very much. Most Americans are fundamentally good people, and if we were more aware of why people dislike us so much, our behavior would change. If we could only see it reflected back at us on CNN. In this case the reason for the hatred is not just our support of Israel, which I think is driven by some idealistic motives, but also the CIA-designed coup that toppled the democratically elected government of Iran, and the roughly half a million people who have died in Iraq of malnutrition, and many other similar events that we should reflect on.
Even if we were unmitigated good guys, as a superpower it's natural that we are targets. The breakdown of the cold war made this much worse, but it also provided an opportunity that we have unfortunately missed so far. The end of the cold war should have freed us to do the right thing, to act as real leaders, and take tangible steps to help the undeveloped world. We have so far squandered this opportunity in favor of policies of short-sighted self interest. But if we take a long range view, we will recognize the control that we have over the situation and alter it. We can get rid of the chaos by changing the parameters. I have been heartened to see that, through calls for actions like "bombing Afghanistan with butter, not explosives", some Americans seem to recognize this. This approach isn't just a matter of goody-goody liberal ideals; it's the only solution that has any hope of working in the long run. This isn't giving the terrorists what they want. Quite the opposite: It is defeating them by removing the basis of their movement, and being better than they thought we were.
When Martin Heidegger famously observed that 'science does not think' he was referring (in part) to the fact that it does not, of itself, supply a system of values. Thus the perversion of science known as Lysenkoism occurred (also in part) because the USSR, in becoming as wholly atheistical as Richard Dawkins, lost the touchstones of ethics, truth, and humility. By willfully misconstruing the insights of Darwin, the 'agrobiological' experiments of T.D.Lysenko, director of the Soviet Academy's Institute of Genetics, directly led to the deaths of millions in famines. It is not just religious fanatics, however defined, that commit atrocity. It was bad science, of course, but even good science is no more than a powerful way of finding things out. In the words of Dr Johnson "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful."
In appearing to blame the recent attacks in the USA on the existence of religion in general, Dawkins's scientism comes close to fundamentalism itself. His implication that all religion is concerned with ultimate ends is wrong, as is his assertion that nothing would be lost were Islam, Christianity and Judaism to be superseded by science as a form of life. At the same time as the founder of Sufism in Islam, Rabi'a al-Adawiyya (A.D. 717-801), was concluding that an authentic life was incompatible with either acting out of hope of reward or, equally, fear of punishment (she thought that to aim for Paradise would not only lack humility but would be an affirmation of something that was not God, and thus fundamentally false), other Arabic scholars were keeping the flame of Aristotle alive and creating the basis of modern university science. This is Dawkins's own scholarly and civilizational inheritance – one that, along with Bach's Passions and Kant's Critique of Judgment, is grounded in a profound religious sensibility.
Obviously, like all things human, religion can go as badly wrong as science. bin Laden is religion's Lysenko. To extrapolate from his fanaticism that the complete demise of three world religions would be no loss, as Dawkins does, is curious. Perhaps it is his evangelical atheism that helps Richard Dawkins come to terms with the shock and disappointment all sane people feel at present. All I can say is that the religious enriches my life, so I for one would lose out in the brave new world he envisages, as would many who are at this moment finding that it is the church, mosque, synagogue or temple that provides solace and hope for continuing their lives beyond grief in the face of their particularly traumatic bereavements. From a prehistorian's perspective, it seems that our species has evolved aptitudes and sensitivities for both science and religion over many tens of thousands of years. Although they have often been antagonized in the history of civilizations, both play central, long-term roles in maintaining and developing our humanity. Ultimately, in my opinion, neither can be any good in the complete absence of the other.
I 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 use:
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 large ones.
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 states.
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 behind.
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.
I think I should contribute something from the "strategic" point of view to the "what now?" discussion since it seems to be sadly missing, or, perhaps, simply obvious to all.
1. Terrorism is a military strategy to accomplish certain specific goals. It is used by those whose numbers and strength is unquestionable less than their opponents. It can be remarkably successful. The French reign of terror was conducted by 22 men and successfully control an entire country.
1. The specific strategy of the terrorist is to provoke a response in the enemy that leads to the enemy's downfall. It is warfare's equivalent to jujitzu in which the small in number and weak in strength use the opponents strength against him.
As one example, the Algeria terrorist provoked the French to withdraw from Algeria all native-born troops (and other actions) that clearly demonstrating to Algerians that the French did not really consider Algerians equal citizens and Algeria, itself, a southern province of France.
3. It is clear from his statements that bin Laden wants to provoke an attack by the US-led Western forces that will be viewed by the Moslem world as an attack on it in order to start a war which he believes the Moslems would win. It is not that he wants to weaken us directly, although the economy has taken a hit, he wants to provoke us to act in a way that will support his assertions about our animosity toward Islam.
4. Terrorists have been halted repeatedly when their actions produce either no response or responses that they do not want. The Palestinian terrorists instantly stopped hijacking planes and attacking airports following the Athens attack when the response in countries like Greece was unfavorable. In fact, Arafat issued a death threat to any such hijackers.
What now? This is a no-brainer. We must respond in a way that disqualifies bin Laden's goal. We must respond in a way that indicates that we are not hostile to Islam. Everything else, is commentary, as the saying goes.
5. Unfortunately the structural problem lies in the fact that information is capable of being distorted. No matter what we do, many people will be told we have done something else. Thus the terrorist does not really have to provoke us into an act that will be useful to him, but he has to be able to interpret what we do in that fashion. An example is that the attack on the World Trade Center is being reported as the work of the Israeli secret service. What scientists can do now is perfect systems that allow open communications. What ever happened to the sun-powered computers that could be provided to third world people that got information from satellites?
Where were you? In years to come, everyone will remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001.
I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, with people who had every reason to be grateful to America and Americans: I was speaking at a conference of men and women engaged in bringing democracy and open markets to the post-Soviet world, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The idea was (properly) not to create a conference of U.S. experts preaching to the natives but to get the local freedom fighters to meet themselves — NGOs (non-government organizations) from Albania and Moldova, reform politicians and officials from Georgia and Romania, journalists from Poland and Serbia, and more. But USAID was the host and, in his opening remarks, Andrew Natsios, the head of that agency, told stories of America's route to democracy and its president John Adams. The United States was the model, but at the same time, it seemed far away, invulnerable, a place not just of free speech but of "freedom after speech."
The next afternoon (seven hours later than New York on European time), the tables had turned. Serbians familiar with bombings, reformers used to constant fear, businesspeople accustomed to taking risks with little guarantee of results, offered their sympathy and shared our horror.
Despite our loss of innocence, Americans should not lose our hope and the optimism that led to our success as a vibrant democracy. (In its worst form it was smugness and support of corrupt regimes; in its best, courage.) There is one victory at least that all of us — the free world — can deny the terrorists. We can refuse to remake our world in their image: a place of fear and mind control, where citizens are tracked and followed, where people are afraid to look or act different.
We can also refuse to lose our expansive attitude toward the future. For the terrorists, the modern world — and the change and openness it means — is scary. By contrast, Americans generally feel secure about the future, in terms of personal life and business. It is no coincidence that the two are bound together. Businesspeople expect investments to bring returns. The World Trade Center is a good example. It represented not just trade but investment. The towers themselves were built to last for years and to return their investment over decades. It's that faith in the future that led to the U.S. economic miracle, including the technology that enabled it. (Much of the world has access to the same technology but has not reaped the same rewards because they do not use it.)
Now, in the aftermath of the attacks last week, the danger is that we'll lose sight of the long term.
In the old Soviet Union, to use the example most familiar to me, people generally wouldn't make appointments more than a few days in advance (though this is changing in the new Russia). If you called someone to set up an appointment for the middle of the next week, he would say: "Why don't you just call me next Tuesday, and we'll see." Sometimes that made me wonder if he was hoping for a better offer in the meantime, but clearly there's some sense of uncertainty that still leaves many Russians loath to make commitments.
In the United States this month and in coming months, we'll likely see similar behavior: a retreat to the present (if not the past). This comes at an unfortunate time for the economy as a whole and for the high-tech industry in particular. Tech companies and software companies do much of their business in the last weeks of each quarter — and the last two weeks of this quarter have been lost.
Such a retreat would be costly, for investors and for society as a whole. Consider this: Time horizons for investors range from the very short one of day traders, to the longer one of equity investors who pick companies, to that of venture capitalists who take long-term stakes and get involved in the management of the companies. But it is the long-term investors, not the clever day-traders or resource allocators, who have really built our economy. A retreat to "safe" investments means a self-fulfilling prophecy of contraction.
You can see that same spectrum of attitudes in philanthropy, from the person who gives a coin or two to a beggar in the street, to people who give regularly to particular charities and read their literature, to people who give significant sums and join the boards of the charities they "invest" in.
In both spheres, the active participants hope for a return and work hard to get it. In one case, the visible return goes to the individual; in the other, except for the satisfactions — which may be great — the tangible returns go to the beneficiaries of the charity. But in both cases, society benefits - from happier people, fewer social problems, better schools, the presence of art, all the riches created by "civil society."
Moreover, for-profit ventures sometimes turn out to be "charities" too: They may lose money, but often they train people (sometimes in how not to run a company!) or design innovative products on which some later-arriving competitor may make money. In other words (as pointed out by Virginia Postrel in a recent economics column for The New York Times), society benefits from this long-term investment even when the individual investor does not. By contrast, much of the world is scared to count on the future. Moreover, it does not welcome change. The American dream is constant progress, whereas the terrorist dream is to bomb the world back into some supposed state of purity. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.
The old Soviet world had yet a different view. They wanted to construct a new world, but somehow their vision was of a bigger present rather than a broader future. Their plans left no room for flexibility or innovation or experiment. Their future was defined from the top, rather than grown from the dispersed efforts and visions of individuals. The old Soviet five-year production plans, after the first few, fostered not hope but cynicism. The people had no expectation that they would produce real results or that they would change the world.
What can we learn from this, and from the people I met in Sofia? Even when the world changed for those in the old Soviet bloc, many of their compatriots, through years of habit, still did not trust in long-term returns. Many were afraid of the new climate, still scared to speak their minds because, after all, the world might change back. (I remember the university professor who kept a bust of Lenin in his cupboard "just in case.") In business, the post-Soviet world began as a world of trade rather than of investment. People wanted immediate returns because they did not trust in the long term.
Ironically, there has recently been the same flight to inaction in the venture community, built on last year's overoptimism and the ensuing reality — a disaster in the short term but just a blip in the long term. The danger now is that terrorism will aggravate that fear of uncertainty and spread it well beyond the high-tech community. I hope this doesn't happen. Now is the time not to fear the future, but to rebuild it and make it even better — not because we don't understand the risks but because we can face them. Americans may have been so optimistic because to some extent we were unaware of the risks, isolated in our happy country. Now we need to take heart from the example of the people I met in Bulgaria. Rather than risk reward calculations and unthinking optimism, what we need now is courage.
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 off.
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 planet.
I am fascinated to read the latest comments and I certainly want to contribute to the Edge discussion. I am planning something more elaborate but this will do for now. For the moment, my principal concern is that the war rhetoric supported by 80% of Canadians polled (in this morning's National Post) is dead wrong in this situation. What it has provoked is clearly a polarization between Islam and the West. The problem with that is that this is not the kind of convenient polarization of East versus West under the cover of the nuclear threat. It is an ubiquitous polarization where your next door neighbor was your friend yesterday and wakes up your murderous enemy this morning. We have known this situation before in the 16th and 17th centuries with the religious wars. We talked yesterday of the infamous massacre of Saint Barthelemy where protestants were executed by posses of Catholics in a Church and in private houses. Even in a country as far removed from the centre of action as Northern Nigeria, that kind of behavior has already begun.
The other biggest mistake made by the same token is to have given bin Laden a huge PR effect by affording him the dignity of the enemy. Declaring war — even on "terrorism" was disastrously wrong, not only at the military level (how do you fight an enemy without an army?), but much much more at the symbolical level (the one that counts for the perpetrators of the September 11th massacre) because it immediately elevated a bunch of criminals to a heightened status, and provided Bin Ladin with the only military power he and the Taliban have, that is to be recognized officially as an opponent worthy of huge media attention and also have access to the minds of millions who see him as a hero and not as a terrorist.
The proper way to deal with terrorism is not war, but police action. The Americans are learning to really cooperate with the international counter terrorism forces for the first time (they used to snub them) and the payload has been immediate, as for instance, locating the cells in Germany and identifying several attackers. The police everywhere in the world is, in principle, paid to protect citizens precisely against this sort of harm. It may not always do its job well. Police states are not pleasant things, but these are not pleasant circumstance. The difference between asking the army to get into this instead of asking the police is that, while the police actions are largely underground, thus meeting the terrorism on their own terrain, so to speak, the effect of military attacks (and especially largely useless air strikes piling rubble on rubble and occasionally killing innocent Afghans) is to change the nature of planetary space itself, to divide it into two irreconcilable and unrelated entities.
I take your "what now?" question literally — what should "we" do — the people reading and writing these? Not "we" the political entities of the West or "we" the heirs of civilization. It strikes me that in these times, the answer is actually quite clear, and it has to do with the great flexibility of that concept of "we."
As a number of people have observed over the years, human beings have a mighty capacity to line up with the rest of their team against some other team, but this mental structure is not committed to any particular content. You might think of it as a syntax without any semantics: We know how to do Us vs. Them, but I have yet to see a persuasive case that any particular form of Us (ethnic, nation, class, religion, even kin) is "built in." So when "we" are attacked we have a cognitive problem: Defining what "we" means. And the problem is of vital importance, because the answer we use doesn't just interpret the world for us, it guides future actions. The story of the attack shapes our response, therefore it matters a great deal what the story is.
And this struggle to define what "we" means is what I see occurring all around me, in New York City, in the United States, and in the world. It is, of course, taking place in billions of individual minds, so the answers vary, from President Bush announcing that our quarrel is not with Islam to the people down the street from me saying they should round up all Arabs in this country. (They are, by the way, neighbors to an Arab family, whose son is away — he's in the US Army). But it is not purely a matter of individual psychology. Some concept of "Us" will succeed, and become part of what Lyotard calls a master narrative of this conflict. It will be the widely shared representation of what our side is, as the story of the American Civil War (not settled until 1863) was "we are those who fight slavery" or the story of World War II (not settled until the 1940's) was "we are those who are destroying totalitarianism."
We are all in the early, unsettled stages of defining our side. Within Islam and within the United States, there are those who speak in terms of God and the sins of nonbelievers. In Europe, I see, at least one Premier has proclaimed the superiority of "Western civilization." Our own president here used the unfortunate word "crusade." It is not inconceivable that in this struggle the "we" definition that succeeds will be Islam vs. Non-Islam; or North vs. South; or the West vs. the Rest. Many of these potential definitions point to a world where "our" victory would be scarcely better than "our" defeat. (In a war of Christianity vs. Islam, where is an atheist materialist going to go?)
So, now what? People on the Edge list should now engage in this worldwide struggle over what it means to be on "our" side. We must fight the rhetoric of metaphysically pure communities, of clashing civilizations, of mystical cycles and divine interventions, and work to shape a definition of "our side" which will be worth fighting for.
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 and Chinese.
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 1998 (http://www.biota.org/people/douglasadams/index.html ).
I agree with Steve Grand that an appropriate response to the current atrocity would be for us all to stop being so damned respectful.
There is no doubt that religion played a key role in the attacks of Nov 11, but in our response to this tragedy we must not make the mistake of demonizing religious belief or believers. The weekend after the attacks Muslim commentator Ziauddin Sardar (a philosopher of science now living in London) wrote a superb piece in the Independent in which he explained the real meaning of the Islamic term "Jihad." As he pointed out it has nothing to do with suicide bombers. "Jihad", he explained, is a term which implies the quest within each individual to live a just life. The men who flew the planes into the WTC and the Pentagon had a profoundly corrupted interpretation of this term, and Sardar, like so many other Muslims, is appalled at the twisting of this essentially personal and peaceful concept. Likewise, Sardar stressed that paradise for Muslims "is not a business transaction" nor "a brothel." The idea (much repeated in the press) that these men were buying their way into paradise — complete with 72 attendent virgins — is nowhere supported by the Koran, according to Sardar, who rightly condemns this debased spiritual accounting.
The men of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network do not represent, as some on the Edge list have suggested, the "inherent irrationality" of religion, but rather the face of religion at its most corrupted. Islam is not the only religion to have produced this face. Think of the Crusades — one of the bloodiest and most horrific episodes in world history, when tens of thousands of innocent Muslims were slaughtered in the name of the Christian God. Yes religion does at times efflouresce into terror — and even terrorism (think also of the religious fundamentalists in this country who are killing doctors who perform abortions) — but that is by no means the only face of religion. The notion that religious belief is inherently irrational and that religious believers are inherently prone to irrational acts is not only arrogant, but also dangerous, for it denies the immense amount of supremely rational thinking that has over many millenia been produced by religious thinkers the world over. To those who claim Osama bin Laden as the face of religion I would counter with the names Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Teresa, all people, driven by deep religious feeling, who have fought heroically for justice and equality.
When considering our response to the events of Sept 11 it seems to me that one thing we who love science must also address is not only to role of religion but that of science itself. Religious fanaticism (among other factors) may indeed propel Osama bin Laden but science has made possible the weapons that bought him to power. One of the questions we must now address is why there are so many forms of weaponry in the world and why those weapons are apparently so easily available. Why for example in a country like Afgahnistan, where millions of people are without adequate food supplies, is the country awash with arms? Why is it that in the world today, when 780 million people are living on the edge of starvation, that automatic guns, missiles and even fighter planes are available to every two-bit insurgent? Why, moreover, do we in the developed world continue to spend such vast amounts of our national budgets on the production of ever more weapons of ever more lethal effectiveness — weapons which, inevitably, trickle out of our control and into the hands of our "enemies"? The Taliban might be flying the MIG's but they certainly did not design them? The landmines that seed Afghanistan —and Cambodia and large parts of Africa — were not developed by these poor and poorly educated peoples, but by the well-educated nations of the north — including the USA. In short, we must deal with the issue of supply, where we are inherently implicated.
Physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, cryptographers, engineers, biotechnologists — large numbers of scientists from all these fields contribute directly or indirectly to the development of weapons. Scientists do not of course mass produce these weapons but without the basic R&D such weapons would not be producable at all. In the wake of September 11, the US administration has called for a huge increase in military spending. That will mean the production of more even weapons and more scientists will be implicated in the development of these. In response to the question What Now?, I suggest that one thing we need is a concerted response from the scientific community against any such move.
Science, like religion, is a double edged sword — neither inherently good nor inherently evil, but rather a tool in the hands of its users. If Osama bin Laden's fundamentalist brand of Islam is a perversion of that fairth, I would suggest that so too it is a perversion of the "faith" of science to lend that faith to the production of landmines, napalm, cluster bombs, biological weapons and other such attrocties of war. If we in the scientific community can send any message at this time of crisis I suggest it should be that our "faith" will not be co-opted to the service of mass destruction.
One must ask what role women have played since September 11, and it seems to me that our voice has been lost. We are not players in this war — all the fighters and outspoken politicians have been men. A few among our ranks have protested outcries of war, a few of us have even perished in this war (although the majority of victims, including all of the perpetrators, were men), but our voice has not been heard. Ironically, while Americans chastise the oppression of Afghani women by the Taliban, the continued economic, political, and cultural oppression, repression, and regression of women at home goes unremarked.
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.
The Taliban are kind of like Nazis to the Afghanis, but we should remember that while the Nazis had resistance and passive obedience among the Germans, they also had supporters. And so do the Taliban. But it's true most of the Afghanis, like the Germans, are just getting screwed.
The other important point is that the Taliban are not bin Laden, and bin Laden not the Taliban. bin Laden is a foreigner who is barely tolerated by most rural Afghanis, since the Afghanis are very xenophobic. I think bin Laden is far more sophisticated, complex, and cosmopolitan than the Taliban. Few Taliban have ever left their home province. bin Laden is a world savvy.
For another thing, he is brilliantly creative, and known among his supporters as 'imaginative." You can't say that about the Taliban. His idea of using American know-how to bomb itself, using no resources of his own, is sheer genius.
He is one of the few Islamics to bridge the great cultural gulf between and among the Arabs. Remember that the Afghanis are NOT Arabs. They are Caucasians, their language is "Indo-European" and they are culturally Persians. The Afghanis don't even like Arabs. Yet bin Laden is able to speak to and appeal to them as well as North Africans, Lebanese, Egyptians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Iranians, Pakistanis, Kashmiris ‹ which is simply remarkable. More so, he has bridge the religious differences among the Muslims, although he still has a way to go. Just getting Shiite and Suni Muslims in the same room is itself a remarkable achievement.
That fact that bin Laden appeals to married, 43-year old residents of America with pilot licenses willing to give their lives, says to me there is something large and non-marginal about this. bin Laden may be Hitler, but it does no good to think of Hitler, or bin Laden, as "fringe" or even as a terrorist. This is a main stream, middle of the road skirmish.
Radical Islam will become the new communism, if it isn't that already. It has a deep appeal, even to those subjugated to it. There are aspects about that, even supporters don't like and can't stand, but they will submit to it because they believe it is better overall than the alternative of "western capitalism."
And like communism it will be very hard to eradicate it, should we attempt to. The Arab countries we are now asking to take sides, will probably take sides with us, but this will kill and maim them because they are essentially taking sides against many of their own citizens, who may be better organized and committed than the government itself.
The key question for me is: will this revolutionary style ‹ a sort of mafia, suicidal, networked, globally guerilla insurgency ‹ be imported by other non Muslim radicals? Will bin Laden become the Che Guevera of this century? Will the resident antipathy towards America in other spheres be cast in the same style? Will all anti-global-capitalism become clones of bin Laden?
Like communism this can spread. And like communism I think it's a very bad idea in practice, though it sounds good in theory. So I am in favor of halting it, and I believe that it needs to be combated early and often.
But the danger of radical Islam becoming the new communism is that anyone who is not against them becomes branded a communist, or "terrorist," themselves. That worries me because I am not so eager to label bin Laden a "tinpot terrorist." He is not second rate, and he may not even be a terrorist. This is a new kind of war. There has been no demands made, like in most terrorism. There is nothing we have that they want. Their intent is not to terrorize. This is only a side product. Their intent is to destroy the prevailing mono-system. But they are not a state government, but a pan-national network that is growing. We've done little to eradicate them in 20 years. They are stronger now then ever before.
At first I thought that the World Trade airbombing would need to be followed through by another attack to have lasting meaning, but as the depth and sophistication of the network of the radicals is revealed I think we have already reached a critical moment. I think we need a new framework for understanding them. I would ban the use of the words "terrorists" and "terrorism." A better old word is "revolutionary."
Our chief concern should be that there is nothing we have they want. They don't want recognition. They don't want our trade. They don't want our culture. They don't want our aspirations ‹ democracy, free choice, high technology. They don't want our values. They don't want our wealth.
Actually, they would like our literacy (for males) and health care, but that is not enough. I think we need to enlarge western civilization so that we have something to offer them that they want. For all their differences, the Chinese and other Asians share aspirations with us. They would like to have much that we have. This is true of Latin America and even Africa to some extent. They want it in their own way, and on their own terms, and with their own improvements, but there is a sense of a common goal.
The Radical Islamics don't share that goal. And for the first time since communism, there is a competing destiny in the world. It is not the end of history as far as they are concerned. We in the west look at radical Islam and blink in disbelief that anyone could possibly want this? Are you serious? Yes. They are as serious as the World Trade Towers. Does it work in practice? Well the few examples we have (Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) do not give us much hope. But it took many decades for the practicality of communism to sink in.
There were plenty of bombs dropped and people killed in western capitalism's battle against communism. But my own view of all that warring is that very little of it made as much difference in the end as the simple fact that the west, through its own improvement, came to offer many things that those in communist countries wanted. And when we had something they wanted, communism collapsed.
We don't have much radical Islam wants right now, but we should. Providing it will be the only way, and the only honest way, to triumph.
Needless to say, even if Bush was Churchill (ha!) this would not happen during his term. It's gonna take many many years.
I was very disappointed to see that Richard Dawkins had felt obliged to withdraw some of his comments about the role of religion in this issue. To me his original comments rang truer than many of the prosaic psychological insights offered elsewhere and have been chillingly confirmed by the recent revelations in the infamous letter written by one of the WTC hijackers to the rest of his demonic crew. "Keep a very open mind, keep a very open heart of what you are to face," the document says. "You will be entering paradise. You will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life."
No mention of 72 virgins, true, but a startling indication of just how powerful religion can be in its corrosive ability to distort and corrupt people's thinking. A perfect example too of why scientific thinking is utterly at odds with religious belief because anybody who thinks scientifically would automatically qu estion everything about the absurd notions harbored by these terrorists concerning God and the afterlife.
And although many religious people would denounce the terrorsists' ideas, Dawkins is surely right to point out that it's the whole mode of religious thought that creates these terrible dangers by brainwashing people with blind faith. As the guardians of reasoned thought, scientists have a special responsibility in impressing on the wider public the distinction between the rationality of science and the irrationality of religion. It would be good to see more scientists stand out decisively against religion instead of, as so many seem to do, pretending to see some middle way in which both can happily coexist.
[Ed. Note: In my first email to regular Edge contributors I mentioned that emails I had received from members of the Edge community (Richard Dawkins, Paul Davies, and Martin Rees, as well as a conversation with Kevion Kelly) helped me to decide to run this project. These messages, which were prior to the "WHAT NOW" Question Project were abbreviated in my Web introduction above. Richard Dawkins Guardian piece has been available all along at the link above, and, he has also provided a new comment as well — click here. He did not withdraw the comments you refer to.
Your point about the importance of scientists and religious thought is well taken. Nicholas Humphrey, Mike Csikszentmihalyi, Dave Myers, J.C. Herz, Stewart Brand, Tim Taylor, and Richard Dawkins, among others all have strong views on the subject. Plans are now underway for an new Edge question project to address this set of issues in the next couple of months. Best, JB]
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.
Richard Dawkins, as usual, talked sense, and made several true and timely points. ... . But in one important respect, his remarks did not seem to me to reach the heart of the issue. He blames religion, and our convention of "respecting" it. Now, I am no advocate of religion, but religious belief is surely not central to the present disaster. There are plenty of terrorists at large who are not pursuing any religious agenda. There are notorious sponsors of terrorism who are driven by nationalist or socialist ideologies, not religious dogma. And there are plenty of religious zealots who are no danger to anybody (except themselves and their unfortunate wives and children).
There are exceptions to every rule.
That is not to deny that mainstream Islamic culture has exhibited a major moral failure. It seems to struggle even to find the language and the conceptual framework genuinely to oppose the crimes that are committed in its name. Large numbers of peaceful Muslims find themselves in effect condoning mass murder, and painfully few can bring themselves to side with the victims now exercising their right of self defence. Nevertheless it is not the tenets of Islam that have caused the present violence. This is a political evil we are facing, not a religious one. And it is a modern evil, not an ancient one.
Yes, but Dawkins is not blaming Islam; he is blaming religion. Whereas Deutsch seems to be blaming something else:
Moreover, mainstream Western culture has also exhibited a major moral failure: a refusal to distinguish between right and wrong. The unique glories of our civilisation - self-criticism, tolerance, openness to change and to ideas from other cultures - have in many people's minds decayed, under this moral failure, into self-hatred, appeasement, and moral relativism.
Well, many of us are not so sure that we (does Deutsch?) can always distinguish between right and wrong, — as do most adherents of religions. (Yes, this has exceptions, too.) Because most religions teach that Faith is a virtue, and teach that morality comes not from reason but from sacred texts that one must be trained to believe. The result, I think that Dawkins agrees, is that religions do not teach those Western Virtues of tolerance, openness to ideas, and — above all — the virtues of critical thinking. This, in my view is what leads many people into following leaders that we/I see as "evil".
I agree with much of the rest of what David Deutsch says — but I feel that he has missed Dawkins' point: that one way that we can defend ourselves is by finding ways to reduce the huge numbers of people who have been trained to follow charismatic leaders by suspending their critical thinking and commonsense.
Now that especially applies to religious people, especially from the more orthodox sects. And of course, again, there are exceptions — but a very large proportion of people on this planet do grow up in "faith-based" sects.
I did indeed wince at Deutsch's discussion of Mr. Bush, who,
... speaking to an audience of children, addressed the question that everyone has asked: "Why would somebody hate so badly"? And he replied: "my answer is, there's evil in the world. But we can overcome evil. We're good." This is the simple truth - a truth on which all our futures depend - yet the moment Mr Bush uttered it, all the intellectuals in the Western world winced.
This is not "the simple truth." In fact, it's the answer that every trained terrorist gives.
How many non-believers would have been capable of giving the right answer to that question? President Bush was able to answer it, and to articulate the explanation, and to use it as an essential element of national policy, not especially because he knows it intellectually but because he understands it in his gut. And the process by which it got into his gut was intimately connected with his religion.
A bit of critical thinking would suggest that perhaps the speechwriter knew that the public is against Evil, knew that it make a fine impression on most of the public, and that speechwriter probably also knew that this is a dangerous basis for national policy — but that writer has a job to do. The "right" basis is, in a democracy, a far more complex matter. Yes, religion is good at getting such clichés into people's "guts" — where gut means to believe something "deeply" without much understanding what one is believing in. And it is all too easy to convert such stuff into whatever you local tyrant wants.