Friday, June 10, 2005

Bottom of the World, Ma!

Purpose today: to continue on my crackpot theories of cultural psychology.

You might remember, if you read it, this post on why people have ideals.

I have an abiding interest in 'applied cultural psychology'. Well, as applied as 'ivory tower' gets. One of my interests is terrorism - why people do it, how often they do it, under what situations they do it. The first thing you notice if you look into terrorism is that it's almost entirely local. In fact, it's SO local that a middle-eastern terrorist attacking, say, the United States, is the kind of thing which simply doesn't happen. Terrorists don't operate on that kind of scope. There is only one event I've found - 9/11 - which is on that kind of scope, so for the moment I'll count it as a solitary outlier.

It got me thinking: why are terrorists always LOCAL? I read this essay (warning, even longer and drier than me). It brought up a lot of interesting points.

Why are terrorists local, and why are they from the "middle class" (or better)? And what does that have to do with my 'achiever' stuff?

If you're a cunning reader, you will notice that at one point I said: "This is because they are on the bottom. (Or they have a lot of free time, which in many ways amounts to the same thing.)" And, if you were paying attention, you probably thought, "is he on crack?"

The basic concept I DIDN'T elaborate on, as it was outside the scope of my essay, was what the hell I was talking about with that line. I will talk about it a little here, and tie it in with some of the weirder parts of humanity.

What are three of the major types of people who try to change the world with their idealism? College students are a HUGE percentage of the people who try to get equal rights, or stop wars, or fight abortion. As are housewives. The third faction is the religious.

What do these three groups have in common? They THINK they know how things work, but they haven't yet been involved closely enough to know that they are wrong. They are EDUCATED - perhaps not in a scientific manner, but still educated - but NAIVE.

Is education the part which causes the problem? Of course not. After all, housewives, college students, and the highly religious have three different educations which teach wholly different facts. People can have more than one education, of course: housewives can be both highly religious and college graduates. I know a few. Furthermore, other kinds of education - such as mathematics - DON'T seem to have any correlation to being an activist (at least at first glance).

This is all highly unscientific - I haven't made a scientific study of it. But if you've ever looked at a protesting crowd, it's made up of two or three of those types of people, almost exclusively.


Because you can be an idealist only if you are on the bottom of your world AND CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. (This, of course, is largely determined by how much free time you have, as well as your skills.)

Uneducated folk are often on the bottom of their world: they get paid shit and worked like dogs. But they really can't do anything about it. When you get an education, doors, both figuratively and quite literally, open for you. You can go up. You can reach the top.

HOW is the important part. If you're a chemical engineer, how are you going to climb the ladder? By getting a high-paying chemical engineering job and inventing a pizza sauce that eats through walls. If you're a business manager, how are you going to climb the ladder? By manufacturing and selling Tickle-me-Elmo dolls.

If you're religious, how are you going to climb the ladder? The only jobs in a religion are the priesty-type-folk, and you don't need more than, say, 2-3% of your religious population being priesty-type-folk. The rest need to DONATE. So if you want to climb a religious ladder, your only option - whether you acknowledge it or not - is to expand your religion or prove your worth. If your religion is full of people dedicated soley to it, you'll have an overflow and you'll get either missionaries or terrorists.

If you're a mom, how are you going to climb the ladder? The only way is to give your children every advantage or to make other moms follow you around. Both of those involve petitioning the people in power to treat your children better.

If you're a liberal arts student, how do you climb the ladder? Like religions, there is space for some to hold power and be critiques, writers, artists, etc. But the majority of them have to turn to other kinds of power - and the default is rabble-rousing and/or convincing the government to give you more power.

In theory, the uneducated would also turn to rabble-rousing, but in practice, they just aren't very good at it. You have to learn to talk, learn to argue, learn to organize people into groups of protesters.

MY theory is - and to a large extent, has always been - educate people scientifically. I'm all for art - I'm a freaking artist, after all - but if you cannot create something of OBJECTIVE VALUE, you have to turn to SUBJECTIVE methods of gaining power. Which, in turn, leads directly towards rabble-rousing of all kinds.

You want less terrorism? My suggestion: force schools to teach science, computers, advanced machining - anything that lets the student create things of objective value.

Nobody is going to listen to me, of course - I'm just fronting a total ivory-tower suggestion. If they DO do this, it won't be because of my post. But I can at least say I had my finger in the pie.

"But, why are terrorists local?"

Because you only want to gain power over the world you can sense. I can sense the whole of the internet spanning out before me. They can only sense their city or, at most, their country. Thoughts of damaging another country would be limited to countries which have an open influence on them AND on their method of gaining power AND are an efficient target.

The United States MAY become threatened, but only if their local world has been essentially settled. It's a matter of efficiency: it costs a lot of money to bomb us over here, and they could do FIFTY bombs for the same price over there. If they start RUNNING OUT of terrorists, they would no longer be terrorists, but priests.

"Er, what was that bit about education, again?"

The educated folk simply 'sense' the social world around them better. Unwilling (or unable) to settle for a factory job, they look for methods of power that uneducated folk wouldn't ever conceive of. Rabble-rousing. Because they don't have time-expensive jobs, they can actively persue these methods of gaining power.


Craig Perko said...

Commenting on my own post - gauche. Just to specify: you CAN climb the religious ladder without being a priest. For example, you can arrange church cook-outs. You can ASSIST the priest-hood.

But the ceiling is very low. If you want real power, you need a real priest.

Darius Kazemi said...

You seem to have forgotten the attempted WTC bombing back in the early 90s. Sure, the terrorists didn't succeed, but they were definitely operating on the same scale as the 9/11 bombers.

Craig Perko said...

That's true, I did forget about it. Which is unfortunate, since it actually backs me up to some extent: Yousef had a very interesting set of circumstances which drove him here (and a very inept set of people failing to stop him).

First, he was NOT a local - he was schooled in the UK (putting the western world solidly on his mental map). Second, he came here after shooting a man in cold blood in front of hundreds of witnesses in the area he NORMALLY performed terrorist activities.

After the bombing, he immediately returned to his old area and resumed local terrorist activities.

It was on a much smaller scale than 9/11, and occurred due to a rather unique set of coincidences and failures.

Still, it does show that we CAN be targets if that is the most efficient expenditure of resources. IE if they grok our existence AND they don't have any local opportunities.

At least, that's what I think.