humani nil a me alienum puto

Here is another article on what seems to be a recurring fascination for me:

The cultural heritage of suicide bombers
The London bombers’ pedigree owes more to Western culture than the Koran.

by Andrew Calcutt

I have only been interested in terrorist psychology since September 2001, when I observed that most Americans could not accept the fact that many, if not all, of the men identified as perpetrators of the 9-11 media event were thoroughly Westernized and highly educated. This denial, in the Freudian sense, correlated with the 1960s denial expressed by conservatives concerning the backgrounds of white hippies and black civil rights activists. Then, it seemed unbelievable that a counterculture radical could be a white middle-class college student, or that a black civil rights activist could be an anticommunist Southern Baptist. For some reason, Americans hold the superstition that the symptoms of anarchism can be treated with a cocktail of traditional religion, college education, capitalism, and technology socialization, so if any of these is missing from someone’s Bildung, it is pinpointed as the cause of uncontrollable terroristic impulses.

There also seems to be a superstition about the ability of a sacred text to cause something to exist, ex nihilo. Just as quoting the Bible doesn’t make one a Christian, and saying that one “has” a Constitutional right doesn’t make it so, retroactively applying a rhetorical label to criminal behavior doesn’t sanctify the actual cause of that behavior. In the case of Islamic terrorists, I think “Islamic” is a rhetorical label convenient for both friends and foes, rather than a cultural descriptor. Of course, this is a moving target, because of ambivalence about which text (and which part of a text) is sacred. Among secularists, for example, the gnosis of Darwin is said to purify the mind in order to prepare it to receive the ultimate revealed truth, that life can be spontaneously generated from inorganic matter. Does that make Genesis 2:7 a Darwinist text? I don’t think so.

I’m not exactly sure what actually prevents a “normal” person from working out the logic of fanaticism. Liberals blame it on the tendency to dehumanize “the Other,” whereas conservatives blame it on irreconciliable differences in the “culture war.” Since I don’t seem to have a problem doing it, although sometimes it makes me sick to my stomach, I think the difficulty is primarily cognitive, a kind of intellectual taboo. I think it may be analogous to the barriers between “math” and “English” types, or between “mechanical” and “abstract” types, or between “active” and “contemplative” types. Because you start out by saying “I can’t think like that” and applying mass psychology labels to yourself, you start to believe that it is literally impossible to even attempt a certain thing. This faux-scientific deductive process leads to all kinds of irrationalism, including both Calcutt’s “alienation” in the terrorist and the normal person’s perception of someone else’s alienness.

I’m not trying to promote Calcutt’s psychosocial babbling, which ends up by equating religious belief with schizophrenia. However, I think the point is well made, that terrorism is more of an internal cultural problem than an intercultural problem.


Instigate some pointless rambling

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