The Psychology of Suicide Bombers


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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SUICIDE BOMBERS

by Barbara Branden

Last evening, I watched a fascinating – and blood-chilling – documentary on the Discovery Channel, entitled “The Psychology of Suicide Bombers.” On it, psychologists and psychiatrists who had interviewed suicide bombers in many different countries over a period of decades – interviewed those who at the last minute had changed their minds about blowing up themselves and others, as well as families and friends of those who had succeeded – presented their findings. . Some of the results of their investigations may be familiar to you; I suspect that some of the most important results may not be, as they were not to me.

I saw in the results important applications to the psychology of all cultists – Webster defines a cult as “a particular system of religious worship” -- whether they be Islamo-fascists, Scientologists, Aristotelians, vegetarians, libertarians, animal-rightists, feminists, or Objectivists. Blindness to reality in the form of cultism has many faces, but these faces bear a marked family resemblance.

Suicide bombers are not united by race, religion, class, intelligence, economics, or education. They may be from rich families or poor, they may have completed graduate courses in universities or not have completed elementary school, they may be highly intelligent or sub-normal, they may be Muslim fundamentalists or formally irreligious, they may be naïve and gullible or worldly-wise.

Suicide bombers are not wild-eyed, screaming fanatics; they are not psychotic; they are not paranoid; for the most part, they tend to be average, commonplace, normal.

There is only a single characteristic that they appear to share: membership in a group. They are not created in isolation and they do not function alone. They become part of a group, and then they become like that group, they take on its characteristics.

It is group dynamics, the researchers contend, that creates suicide bombers.

The groups that produce suicide bombers – and, in my opinion, create cultists – also have definite characteristics in common. Whether the group consists of four individuals, like the London subway bombers, or of many, like the World Trade Center bombers, when the members of the group develop a strong, family-like bond, the power of the group over its members can be astounding – leading them even to embrace their own deaths. The group becomes the new family of its members, superseding their own real families in importance; they spend most of their time together; they become progressively cut off from the larger society, progressively more alienated from it. They do not view their enemies as human – whomever those enemies may be, since the nature of the enemies differs from group to group – rather, the enemies are things, they are de-humanized, they are evil, and thus it is not possible to feel empathy or compassion for them. Some of the groups are trained and supported by a larger association, but some of them form and take action without the assistance of any outside group or mastermind figure; many such groups or “cells” form spontaneously, with no communication with an outside group. The members radicalize one another, although, after they are radicalized, they may then decide to join a larger group which has been similarly radicalized.

One of the researchers demonstrated an interesting and relevant experiment. .A group of people was asked to participate in a simple experiment: to look at several straight lines on paper, and to say which one of them matched a particular line in length. In fact, only one young male participant was, in effect, the guinea pig; the others, unknown to him, had been told that each of them was to choose a specific wrong line – that is, a line that did not match the given line in length. The guinea pig looked startled, at first, at the selection of all the others, and, shaking his head in bewilderment and uncertainty, he gave the correct answer. But by the time he reached his second series of lines, he still gave puzzled looks at the others – but he gave the same wrong answer they had given. It was chilling to watch; the young man clearly knew that his answers were highly dubious, but he was overwhelmed by what he experienced as the power of the group.

Knowledge is power. There can be great advantages to joining a group of like-minded people, but we must know the dangers involved in such membership, and we must be very certain to keep sacrosanct our own independent view of reality. If we do not, we may not become suicide bombers, but we surely shall become cultists.

Barbara Branden

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Barbara,

Wow! Did you ever nail it on the head! I call these people by the traditional metaphor of cattle.

It is so refreshing to see crowd psychology addressed by one of the original official thinkers of Objectivism. This is very important. The "urge to belong" is strong enough in the human psyche for people to refrain from using their own certainty, as the experiment shows. The philosophy needs to provide guidelines and advice to combat this urge, yet I see the contrary. This urge is exploited.

What I find extremely ironic in the Objectivist world is the high percentage of the "all them against us" mentality that characterizes most of the different groups. People are rewarded for suspending their own judgment and adhering to the party line, regardless of whether they show signs of being firmly convinced. They are rewarded all the same - while they watch dissenters being severely chastised. A philosophy of rational self-interest has generated group-think in spades.

One thing is blatantly clear, however. Where you find the cattle, you also find the bull. Where you find the follower you also find the leader. Where you find the cult member you also find the guru.

And where you find a huge amount of noise with a group following, you also find the guru wannabee.

Objectivism is being used by several people today (some who are real knuckleheads and others who are more serious) in order to attain power - nothing but power. They make a travesty of the philosophy in order to stifle independent thinking - mocking the fact that Objectivism is essentially and ideally about nothing but independent thinking.

I would laugh if it were not so tragic when I see all the individualistic selfish steer out there. In herds.

Moo.

Michael

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Thanks, Barbara, for that thought-provoking article. This reminded me of kids joining gangs, using drugs or doing any number of the stupid things kids do, and it seems to get worse after they grow up. The experiment showed that social metaphysics probably includes automatic emotional reactions and is not necessarily limited to evasion. It goes deeper than conscious choices. It is when people's minds are engaged in groupthink that they take on increasingly extreme views or initiate force against themselves or others for a higher cause or perceived injustice. I'm seeing this in places that I would least expect.

Kat

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Most enlightening. And alarmingly familiar. I see it all the time, being in high school. This "crowd mentality" is one of the things that I hate the most, but unfortunately it happens to me as well. I felt a bit of sympathy for the man in the experiment, and feel that I might have done the same thing.

I think there is a certain amount of fear in many cases, when the crowd is unfamiliar. Such behavior could stem some sort of self-preservation. At least, that is what I have witnessed the most at school. There have been countless times when someone said something in class that made sense to me, but went against popular opinion, and the speaker was immediately jumped upon by the rest. The sight of someone literally shrinking in their chair with wide, frightened eyes is familiar to me.

However, I am intrigued by that particular experiment. Is there a place where I could find more information on it? Such as how many times they performed it, and on how many different people? There could have been different reactions depending on the particular personality of the "guinea pig". And as to the lines? I could understand if the correct and "crowd" lines were somewhat close in length, however I would never agree if it was something like . compared to |.

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Very well elucidated, Barbara! Avid belief in something without the willingness to question it or distinguish oneself from it is the basis of a cult mentality. It reminds me that in small, close-knit congregations, where there are church activities 4-5 times a week, where the children are told to have only Christian friends, where everything is censored and everyone agrees, where the outside world becomes the "other" and non-Christians become things called "sinners" or "damned," this quote rings strikingly true:

They do not view their enemies as human – whomever those enemies may be, since the nature of the enemies differs from group to group – rather, the enemies are things, they are de-humanized, they are evil, and thus it is not possible to feel empathy or compassion for them.

Since I, too, believe I have the claim on Truth, it's important to distinguish how alike and unlike my ways of thinking are from those I disagree with. Examining my commonality with the world is not my favorite passtime, and it's probably not yours either, I realize, yet it is important for me to understand how I am like you, even if (and perhaps especially if) I hate you. Distinguishing myself from others while recognizing what we all have in common has allowed me to see people first as people, then as ideologies, which is important in my development as a thinking individual, and it's important in my profession.

Every semester, I tell my students to be comfortable in a state of "finding out"; that is, to be at ease not knowing all the answers and to be willing to learn. I try to emphasize that they are more than their backgrounds and ages and hobgoblin of cultural contexts. I want them to question as much as they can handle and I also emphasize, for any of them who may have a cult mentality, that they are more than their strongest belief.

I tell them to take a step back from what I term their "ideology machines"--the kind of mentality that filters the entire world through the same machine to get the same answers every time, no surprises: "I'm a Latina so I don't like this..." or, "I'm a Latina so I DO like this..."; "I'm a Christian so I don't like that..." or "I'm a Christian so I DO like that...." I usually mention vegetarianism in the place of Christianity (hoping they'll insert Christianity on their own--hoping they'll challenge themselves, in other words, and not see me as the devil), but I do try to mention an ethnicity since so many of my students think in terms of their ethnicity.

"This does NOT mean that there is no truth," I tell those who may be getting squirmy. "This does NOT mean you should have no convictions," I say. What it does mean, however, is that the world is perhaps bigger than they have imagined it, and that there is room for nuance and paradox and wonder and even disagreement in whatever they believe.

There is room for each of them to be an individual--that's what I'm trying to get at. It may seem like I'm encouraging plurality but remember that I'm fighting a lot: college campuses have a special ability to encourage group mentality while acting like or even believing that they are promoting independent free-thinking. It's important for my students to feel comfortable FEELING alone and alike others at the same time--balancing the two. I have trouble with that even as an adult.

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Barbara,

Great article. Thank you for your insights.

That experiment describes exactly what happens every day in groups. Some irrational idea comes up, the GROUP is looking around for consensus. It could be any irrationality or bigotry. That's when you say, "I think I left the headlights on in my car", then leave and drive away. Or else say, "That's crap!" and face the music. Depends on how much you value some of the members of the group. It's tough when it's family.

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I caught part of that show too, Barbara!

I think the thing that got to me the most was, as you mentioned, the relatively "normal" type of person seen, rather than the insane fantatic.

The "we" aspect of life is a good one-quarter of everything that is for most people. Studying group psychology is fascinating (and, often, disturbing, like in the experiment you mention). In business, it is very interesting- I got exposed to a good bit of that while my wife was finishing her M.A. in organizational management.

Cults, in general, seem to be on the rise. It's really something to go to a place like Rick Ross's excellent site www.rickross.com and see the massive database he has accumulated on cult and near-cult activities.

Unitarian Universalists (of which I am one) have a very good reason for including the phrase "not to think alike, but walk together" in their bond of union.

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There can be great advantages to joining a group of like-minded people, but we must know the dangers involved in such membership, and we must be very certain to keep sacrosanct our own independent view of reality. If we do not, we may not become suicide bombers, but we surely shall become cultists.

This is a wonderful article Barbara. We all see people trying to shake off what their own mind is telling them, in order to belong to the group. Many of us can probably see ourselves doing that when we reflect upon things we have done. What a telling experiment.

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Barbara, you wrote a very interesting essay. I hope it's going to be part of a book of psychological and/or sociological insights and observations. =D>

The whole "group dynamics" phenomenon is very real and very disturbing. You gave the right perspective on it -- one might say "the benefits and hazards of group membership." :-k

I remember talking to an activist Libertarian years ago who pointed out the eerie similarities between superficially different ideological, religious, and philosophical groups. It seemed applicable across the board.

And this is not intended as an insult to Libertarians or Objectivists per se, just an observation that people who gravitate toward these perspectives are not immune to the seductive pressures to fit in to a dynamic pattern.

How this all fits in with free will and autonomy is an interesting question. It would seem that if all different kinds of groups end up like this, that there is some kind of social determinism at work.

However, it remains the case that each person is free to retain his or her autonomy and integrity, if that is what he or she values more highly than membership in a group, however beneficial it might appear to be.

Not everyone succumbs to this seductiveness of belonging to one's "family." Some people are such individuals that they "would never belong to a group that would have me as a member." (Mencken?)

Even those who succumb for a while, often break free. It is those who are oblivious to cultism in their own group and maybe even in their own psyches that really worry me. (Diana, are you listening in?)

REB

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Thank you for a fine article, Barbara; very concise and eloquently stated. There seems to be an astonishing loneliness in humans that we as a species will sacrifice so much just to belong. I see the acts of suicide bombers at the far end of a continuum that starts with the deceptively simple "suicide" of one's individuality in the face of the group identity. In this way cults have always fed upon the low self-worth of its victims/membership. Odd that an apparent survival mechanism like the desire to "fit in" would have its ultimate expression in self-extermination. Terrible.

I see a world-wide crisis of self-esteem threatening to destroy whole nations of people just so individuals can share the illusion of being better than some others. The capacity to demonize the "other" has a direct connection to the low self-worth of the demonizer; what we imagine as appropriate action towards others, we secretly sanction against ourselves. Implicit in the choice of that unfortunate young man in the study you mention is not only the expendability of his knowledge, but of his mind and ultimately his self; greater and greater desperation is all the gradient he needs.

All this puts me in mind of the Jungian archetype of the Orphan. It can be profoundly difficult to face our ultimate aloneness. Intellectually, it's deceptively easy, like shooting fish in a barrel, but to really, deeply feel our "outcast state" may not ever come in one's life time until its very last moments. At the present level of cultural evolution, even those who do come face to face with the Orphan within--generally through mischance and profound grief--are far more likely to react by leaping head first into the nearest cultic system than they are to sit down and get to know the Stranger gazing back at them when they look in the mirror.

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Thank you all for your very kind – and interesting – comments. What a pleasure it is to have such thoughtful responses to my article!

Michael, you wrote: “A philosophy of rational self-interest has generated group-think in spades.” Tragically, this is so in many instances. It is not limited to Objectivists, as I’m sure you are aware, but Objectivists are certainly not immune to it. Ironically, it is Objectivism that can provide the vaccine against this disease: confidence in one’s rational mind.

Yes, Kat, social metaphysics surely is involved, but I have concluded, from my own observations of cultists, that many of them are not obvious Peter Keatings – that is, their friends may see them as independent and intellectually rather fearless. But what they share is a profound feeling of alienation and a profound and probably unadmitted self-doubt which they experience as shameful; both the alienation and the self-doubt bring them to long for the sense of belonging to a group they admire, for a sense of “family,” for the sanction from that group that they perhaps never received from their real family.

Inky, I’m very glad that you recognize this phenomenon among your schoolmates. And so long as you do recognize it, you are armed against falling into it yourself. Perhaps you once might have fallen into the mistake made by the young man in the experiment I cited, but would you now? Yes, I agree that fear is involved, and the sense that self-preservation is at stake. But in fact it is self-preservation that is sacrificed by cultists. Once a person turns against what his mind tells him is the truth, how is he to preserve himself?

You asked if I could give you more information about the experiment. Sorry, but all I know about it is what I saw on the program and what I reported. Some years ago, there was a similar experiment, much more appalling in its implications, by a scientist named Stanley Milgram. One site presenting this experiment is http://www.new-life.net/milgram.htm. If you Google his name, you will find a number of other sites that discuss it.

Lydia, you wrote: “Every semester, I tell my students to be comfortable in a state of "finding out"; that is, to be at ease not knowing all the answers and to be willing to learn.” Amen! My own definition of maturity is: the ability to live with uncertainty. No matter how much we learn, we always face areas of uncertainty; if we are not comfortable with this fact, we inevitably will gravitate toward group-think. Your students are fortunate to have you.

Mikee: “It's tough when it's family.” It appears that it’s even tougher to break away when it is, so to speak, an adopted family or close friends. One has chosen such people, and it can be difficult and painful to recognize and admit that one has made a terrible mistake.

Rich, you wrote: “I think the thing that got to me the most was, as you mentioned, the relatively "normal" type of person seen, rather than the insane fanatic.” That’s what got to me the most, also. One expects suicide bombers to be foaming at the mouth, and it’s startling to discover in how many ways they seem just like the rest of us. That’s precisely why I wanted to report on this.

Jody: “We all see people trying to shake off what their own mind is telling them, in order to belong to the group. Many of us can probably see ourselves doing that when we reflect upon things we have done.” During my years with Ayn Rand and my membership in the “Collective,” there were certainly times when I tried to accept an idea simply because Rand said it was true and the group agreed; sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn’t. The problem becomes much more difficult when one is presented, by the group’s leader, with an apparently reasonable case which one cannot immediately refute, and all one has is a powerful emotional sense that something is very wrong with the case. What I finally learned was to say to myself that I could not see an alternative to the case with which I’d been presented, but that I respected my emotions sufficiently to reserve judgment, to ask myself why my emotions were protesting, to try to understand what they were telling me, and to think about the issue as long and hard as I needed to until I could come to a totally first-hand decision.

Roger: “Barbara, you wrote a very interesting essay. I hope it's going to be part of a book of psychological and/or sociological insights and observations.” Clearly, Roger, you are trying to drive me crazy! I’m torn among so many book projects at present that I don’t know which one I’m going to settle on.

You said: “It is those who are oblivious to cultism in their own group and maybe even in their own psyches that really worry me.” I agree – and unfortunately this obliviousness seems to be true of most cultists. But as I said earlier, to be aware of the danger is the most crucial step in avoiding it.

By the way, I think it was that great philosopher Groucho Marx who said he wouldn’t join any group that would have him as a member.

Kevin, I won’t comment on parts of your post, because I agree with all of it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Barbara,

I just came across an amazing compilation of information on mind control. Granted it is from an anarcho-libertarian perspective (especially a part about 9-11 - one of those), but there is very much EXTREMELY INTERESTING information in it. It is a bit long, though.

Here is the link: MIND CONTROL IN THE 21st CENTURY

The "Milgram Experiment" is discussed and the "Stanford Prison Experiment." Obeying authority is focused and so is propaganda and what is called "psyops" (psychological operations).

There is one set of Internet disinformation rules given that is so much like what I have observed on Objectivism forums that I will quote it below. (The accuracy is a bit creepy.) The last paragraph shows you the "conspiracy" mentality of the guy who collected all this. Still, doesn't it remind you of something? Maybe some people?

Michael

The "25 RULES" offered by another Internet contributor, H. Michael Sweeney, are well worth examining. He credits these rules as having been built from the Thirteen Techniques for Truth Suppression, by David Martin. While not the "complete gospel," they offer a good beginning, for recognizing and understanding disinformation tactics.

Twenty-Five Rules of Disinformation

Note: The first rule and the last five (or six, depending on situation) rules are generally not directly within the ability of the traditional disinformationist to apply. These rules are generally used more directly by those at the leadership, key players, or planning level of the criminal conspiracy or conspiracy to cover up.

1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Regardless of what you know, don’t discuss it - especially if you are a public figure, news anchor, etc. If it’s not reported, it didn’t happen, and you never have to deal with the issues.

2. Become incredulous and indignant. Avoid discussing key issues and instead focus on side issues which can be used show the topic as being critical of some otherwise sacrosanct group or theme. This is also known as the "How dare you!" gambit.

3. Create rumor mongers. Avoid discussing issues by describing all charges, regardless of venue or evidence, as mere rumors and wild accusations. Other derogatory terms mutually exclusive of truth may work as well. This method works especially well with a silent press, because the only way the public can learn of the facts are through such "arguable rumors". If you can associate the material with the Internet, use this fact to certify it a "wild rumor" which can have no basis in fact.

4. Use a straw man. Find or create a seeming element of your opponent’s argument which you can easily knock down to make yourself look good and the opponent to look bad. Either make up an issue you may safely imply exists based on your interpretation of the opponent/opponent arguments/situation, or select the weakest aspect of the weakest charges. Amplify their significance and destroy them in a way which appears to debunk all the charges, real and fabricated alike, while actually avoiding discussion of the real issues.

5. Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule. This is also known as the primary attack the messenger ploy, though other methods qualify as variants of that approach. Associate opponents with unpopular titles such as "kooks", "right-wing", "liberal", "left-wing", "terrorists", "conspiracy buffs", "radicals", "militia", "racists", "religious fanatics", "sexual deviates", and so forth. This makes others shrink from support out of fear of gaining the same label, and you avoid dealing with issues.

6. Hit and Run. In any public forum, make a brief attack of your opponent or the opponent position and then scamper off before an answer can be fielded, or simply ignore any answer. This works extremely well in Internet and letters-to- the-editor environments where a steady stream of new identities can be called upon without having to explain criticism reasoning -- simply make an accusation or other attack, never discussing issues, and never answering any subsequent response, for that would dignify the opponent’s viewpoint.

7. Question motives. Twist or amplify any fact which could so taken to imply that the opponent operates out of a hidden personal agenda or other bias. This avoids discussing issues and forces the accuser on the defensive.

8. Invoke authority. Claim for yourself or associate yourself with authority and present your argument with enough "jargon" and "minutiae" to illustrate you are "one who knows", and simply say it isn’t so without discussing issues or demonstrating concretely why or citing sources.

9. Play Dumb. No matter what evidence or logical argument is offered, avoid discussing issues with denial they have any credibility, make any sense, provide any proof, contain or make a point, have logic, or support a conclusion. Mix well for maximum effect.

10. Associate opponent charges with old news. A derivative of the straw man usually, in any large-scale matter of high visibility, someone will make charges early on which can be or were already easily dealt with. Where it can be foreseen, have your own side raise a straw man issue and have it dealt with early on as part of the initial contingency plans. Subsequent charges, regardless of validity or new ground uncovered, can usually them be associated with the original charge and dismissed as simply being a rehash without need to address current issues -- so much the better where the opponent is or was involved with the original source.

11. Establish and rely upon fall-back positions. Using a minor matter or element of the facts, take the "high road" and "confess" with candor that some innocent mistake, in hindsight, was made -- but that opponents have seized on the opportunity to blow it all out of proportion and imply greater criminalities which, "just isn’t so." Others can reinforce this on your behalf, later. Done properly, this can garner sympathy and respect for "coming clean" and "owning up" to your mistakes without addressing more serious issues.

12. Enigmas have no solution. Drawing upon the overall umbrella of events surrounding the crime and the multitude of players and events, paint the entire affair as too complex to solve. This causes those otherwise following the matter to begin to loose interest more quickly without having to address the actual issues.

13. Alice in Wonderland Logic. Avoid discussion of the issues by reasoning backwards with an apparent deductive logic in a way that forbears any actual material fact.

14. Demand complete solutions. Avoid the issues by requiring opponents to solve the crime at hand completely, a ploy which works best for items qualifying for rule 10.

15. Fit the facts to alternate conclusions. This requires creative thinking unless the crime was planned with contingency conclusions in place.

16. Vanishing evidence and witnesses. If it does not exist, it is not fact, and you won’t have to address the issue.

17. Change the subject. Usually in connection with one of the other ploys listed here, find a way to side-track the discussion with abrasive or controversial comments in hopes of turning attention to a new, more manageable topic. This works especially well with companions who can "argue" with you over the new topic and polarize the discussion arena in order to avoid discussing more key issues.

18. Emotionalize, Antagonize, and Goad Opponents. If you can’t do anything else, chide and taunt your opponents and draw them into emotional responses which will tend to make them look foolish and overly motivated, and generally render their material somewhat less coherent. Not only will you avoid discussing the issues in the first instance, but even if their emotional response addresses the issue, you can further avoid the issues by then focusing on how "sensitive they are to criticism".

19. Ignore proof presented, demand impossible proofs. This is perhaps a variant of the "play dumb" rule. Regardless of what material may be presented by an opponent in public forums, claim the material irrelevant and demand proof that is impossible for the opponent to come by (it may exist, but not be at his disposal, or it may be something which is known to be safely destroyed or withheld, such as a murder weapon). In order to completely avoid discussing issues may require you to categorically deny and be critical of media or books as valid sources, deny that witnesses are acceptable, or even deny that statements made by government or other authorities have any meaning or relevance.

20. False evidence. Whenever possible, introduce new facts or clues designed and manufactured to conflict with opponent presentations as useful tools to neutralize sensitive issues or impede resolution. This works best when the crime was designed with contingencies for the purpose, and the facts cannot be easily separated from the fabrications.

21. Call a Grand Jury, Special Prosecutor, or other empowered investigative body. Subvert the (process) to your benefit and effectively neutralize all sensitive issues without open discussion. Once convened, the evidence and testimony are required to be secret when properly handled. For instance, if you own the prosecuting attorney, it can insure a Grand Jury hears no useful evidence and that the evidence is sealed an unavailable to subsequent investigators. Once a favorable verdict (usually, this technique is applied to find the guilty innocent, but it can also be used to obtain charges when seeking to frame a victim) is achieved, the matter can be considered officially closed.

22. Manufacture a new truth. Create your own expert(s), group(s), author(s), leader(s) or influence existing ones willing to forge new ground via scientific, investigative, or social research or testimony which concludes favorably. In this way, if you must actually address issues, you can do so authoritatively.

23. Create bigger distractions. If the above does not seem to be working to distract from sensitive issues, or to prevent unwanted media coverage of unstoppable events such as trials, create bigger news stories (or treat them as such) to distract the multitudes.

24. Silence critics. If the above methods do not prevail, consider removing opponents from circulation by some definitive solution so that the need to address issues is removed entirely. This can be by their death, arrest and detention, blackmail or destruction of their character by release of blackmail information, or merely by proper intimidation with blackmail or other threats.

25. Vanish. If you are a key holder of secrets or otherwise overly illuminated and you think the heat is getting too hot, to avoid the issues, vacate the kitchen.

The important aspect of all this information is to know that "disinformationists" exist; and that they operate with an effective scientific method. These are not casual debaters, or simple ‘contrarians.’ They are an intellectual and emotional toxin in the society. They can be defeated, but only when they are generally known, identified as they appear; and with steps taken to counter their nefarious ways.

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  • 3 weeks later...

To tie the essence of this article with another article you have recently written, couldn't we call this phenomenon "group" or "cultural" rage?

I believe it was in "Honoring the Self" that Nathaniel Branden raised a powerful point that I would love to see someone develop; he compared the maturation of a society into libertarianism to the psychological process of individuation. It seems that you are looking at rage as it relates to individuals, groups, cultures and nations.

You are right, Roger. It sounds like a book....

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  • 3 months later...

The rules of disinformation remind me of many people I've met. But in particular, I keep thinking of the rhetoric North Korea uses, particularly regarding the Korean War.

On a side note: the official name of that country is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I cannot say that the name is a complete lie. The word "Korea" at the end is true.

I'm reminded of the way commentators Ann Coulter and Al Franken each complain about how the other one calls her/his opponents names. Each one is right. They both call each other names. They both behave as though people who don't agree with them are traitors/Fascists. They both use sarcasm as a rhetorical device.

And again, that reminds me of somebody else, fictionally, with the initials EMT.

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  • 1 month later...
Very well elucidated, Barbara!

I second that! I'd love to research into group dynamics in the future with neuroscience.

Every semester, I tell my students to be comfortable in a state of "finding out"; that is, to be at ease not knowing all the answers and to be willing to learn.  I try to emphasize that they are more than their backgrounds and ages and hobgoblin of cultural contexts.
I tell them to take a step back from what I term their "ideology machines"--the kind of mentality that filters the entire world through the same machine to get the same answers every time, no surprises: "I'm a Latina so I don't like this..." or, "I'm a Latina so I DO like this..."

Well said, and I feel like I'm trying to say this all the time to everyone around me. It's nice to find it understood already.

"This does NOT mean that there is no truth," I tell those who may be getting squirmy.  "This does NOT mean you should have no convictions," I say.  What it does mean, however, is that the world is perhaps bigger than they have imagined it, and that there is room for nuance and paradox and wonder and even disagreement in whatever they believe.

Would be blasphemous to say "Amen to that" on an Oist forum? ;)

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  • 3 months later...

I just added a post to another thread that is extremely important to the discussion in this thread. In the interest of keeping this issue in one place, I am reproducing my post below. Here is the link if your are interested in seeing the other context.

M

Ed Hudgins just made a very important post on RoR where he cited the following article in The WorldNetDaily called Suicide bombers follow Quran, concludes Pentagon briefing. I am putting the link and quotes here because this is pertinent to our discussion.

There is a little known Pentagon agency called CIFA - Counterintelligence Field Activity. It made a recent study and concluded that suicide bombers are rational. That's right. Rational. Once suicide bombers accept certain premises found in the Quran (the irrational part), they rationally pursue values and benefits. The study called these people "rational actors."

"Suicide in defense of Islam is permitted, and the Islamic suicide bomber is, in the main, a rational actor," concludes a recent Pentagon briefing paper titled, "Motivations of Muslim Suicide Bombers."

"His actions provide a win-win scenario for himself, his family, his faith and his God," the document explains. "The bomber secures salvation and the pleasures of Paradise. He earns a degree of financial security and a place for his family in Paradise. He defends his faith and takes his place in a long line of martyrs to be memorialized as a valorous fighter.

"And finally, because of the manner of his death, he is assured that he will find favor with Allah," the briefing adds. "Against these considerations, the selfless sacrifice by the individual Muslim to destroy Islam's enemies becomes a suitable, feasible and acceptable course of action."

(...)

In preparation for attacks, suicide terrorists typically recite passages from six surahs, or chapters, of the Quran: Baqura (Surah 2), Al Imran (3), Anfal (8), Tawba (9), Rahman (55) and Asr (103).

I Googled the phrase "Motivations of Muslim Suicide Bombers" to see of the briefing paper is online, but I couldn't find it.

What this study so eloquently illustrates is the need for intellectual action. There are many mainstream Muslims who are against a suicidal practice of the religion, but they fall helpless before the erudition of the fundamentalists when premises are discussed. More than any time in history, they need strong intellectual tools to be able to defend their position. Telling them at the outset to abandon the religion is not going to convince anybody. Yet the CIFA states clearly that rationality is a huge factor. One has to conclude that Muslims are and want to be rational at base. But a wrong premise can develop rationally into a nightmare. This is why premises are so crucial.

Need I mention how many people have committed barbarous acts over the centuries in the name of Christianity? How many wars? How many literal self-sacrifices that were destructive of others? Yet the intellectual war was fought with Christianity. Separation of church and state, individual rights, checks and balances and a host of other principles were added to the faith in terms of being accepted as proper conditions for living on earth. Freedom became a condition for practicing Christianity. not the contrary. Few Christians nowadays think religion is the source of freedom. Only after this attitude became widespread was it possible to feasibly advocate abandoning faith completely for reason.

This is the war that needs to be fought with radical Islamism. We do not need to approach Muslims with the attitude that Islam as a whole is bad. We need to isolate the bad parts that conflict with the principles of freedom and make them clear. We need to offer intellectual alternatives - ones that have just as much erudition as those provided by fundamentalists. We need to show the contradictions in the Quran and make it clear that if peace-loving Muslims do not choose their premises from one side or the other of these contradictions, the fundamentalists will choose for them - and maintain that choice by force. We need to highlight - in Islamic terms, but with principles of freedom - that the manner in which the fundamentalists practice Islam is evil.

There are literally millions and millions who hunger for such information.

It sickens me that "democracy" has been offered as an intellectual principle instead of something like this. That democracy is no good without individual rights needs to be clarified in the loudest terms possible - and in terms Muslims can understand.

After a base of freedom has been established, we can offer Rand undiluted. We should not forget that The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged would not have ever been published in communist Russia, but in today's Russia, one where principles of freedom are starting to grow, this possibility is becoming feasible. The idea that this could have happened under Stalin is so remote it seems comical.

It is a breath of fresh air to see a US government agency finally admitting that there is an intellectual problem involved with suicide bombers. Now maybe they will start to make proper efforts to do something in the right direction.

But that is not really their job. We should let the military do what it does well. It has been brilliant in all things military so far. It has not been good at all in intellectual warfare. We intellectuals have this job to do. Even the military is now starting to perceive this.

Michael

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  • 1 month later...
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SUICIDE BOMBERS

by Barbara Branden

There is only a single characteristic that they appear to share: membership in a group. They are not created in isolation and they do not function alone. They become part of a group, and then they become like that group, they take on its characteristics.

It is group dynamics, the researchers contend, that creates suicide bombers.

For the most part, the study makes sense, however, I think there is an important distinction missing in the above statement which I quoted above: and that is the fact that this study assumes participants who are not independent thinkers who actively make value judgements for every action they consider.

Picking the wrong length of line in the study cited in this article may be the choice made by many, but I don't think that an individualist whose actions are directed only by his own will and not the concensus of others, would pick a wrong answer on purpose because it's what the group did.

Rational individuals make value judgements, and whether one values acceptance, or the perception of acceptance in a group by means of an act that is wrong, more than one values his knowledge of absolutes (the line of the correct length), says a lot about the person. The one choosing the wrong answer in agreement with the group is a collectivist. The one who chooses the right answer believes in absolutes and is an individualist.

That aside, I think the article is startlingly revealing. Most people are biological robots. Monkey see, monkey do.

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Picking the wrong length of line in the study cited in this article may be the choice made by many, but I don't think that an individualist whose actions are directed only by his own will and not the concensus of others, would pick a wrong answer on purpose because it's what the group did.

Mark,

I had to see it to believe it, but "follow the leader" is big on Objectivist forums. I have been subject to it and so has Barbara. In her case, a while back on SoloHQ, lots of posters praised her bio of Rand to the skies. Then the owner fell out with her and adopted a derogatory book against her (PARC). It was quite a spectacle seeing a group of people suddenly turn against her without reading the book, and then a few reading it and presenting "seeing the light" conversion experiences. I have no doubt that if this guru-wannabe turns again and says he was mistaken, those people will turn with him.

If you want a more recent example, look at Peikoff's pronouncement about voting Democrat. People who used to constantly blast Hillary, Kerry, Dean, etc., suddenly started attacking Bush ferociously, railing against the threat of a theocracy, and leaving out all references to specific Democratic politicians, just saying "Democrats" instead, and calling them the lesser of two evils.

I also believe that suicide bombers do make value choices. It is the capacity to value so highly that makes them go all the way. Where they go astray is in misunderstanding crowd psychology and their own inner drives. They build with strong reason on a false foundation.

A typical Objectivist approach claims that "others" in one's life is always a matter of choice, yet have no theory about where the capacity to fall in love comes from. Don't forget that Rand called her love her "highest value" and stated quite confidently that she believed in love at first sight. Wouldn't it be strange to call falling in love at first sight "collectivist" because it involved another? Yet succumbing to the emotional temptation of falling in with a crowd is called "collectivist." I call it the human condition.

I hold that there are "animal" drives in man (from the definition of man as "rational animal," with rational being the differentia and animal the genus). He is an animal before he is rational--at least this is how he evolved. Seeking out members of the same species is a natural impulse and so is certain crowd behavior that is observed in other primates.

Cults prey on this. If they can "hook" a person on the "animal" level, they can develop anything they want by reason after that, even suicide bombers. The "animal" level is the premise level since it is experienced as "the given."

In the case of suicide bombers, Islam is used as a well-organized foundation of principles for constituting a group and they play the emotional card in a very heavy-handed manner. The way the fundamentalists practice Islam, it is a cult. This excludes most Muslims, though--sort of like Christians who handle poisonous snakes or allow themselves to be crucified. These people are in cults, but most Christians are not like that.

The most telling part is that you don't see the leaders blowing themselves up.

I would like to say Objectivism is an automatic defense against a person giving himself over to a crowd, but it is not. A person must make that call as a personal choice when the urge or drive is prompted by those around him. And people do feel a strong desire to belong all the time, especially if there is a crowd around him exerting peer pressure. He can't do anything about the desire that surges, but he can do something about his acts. Still, it is very difficult if he has not yet felt the wrath of a crowd on his own hide and survived it.

Michael

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Perhaps the so-called Objectivists who turn with the tide of the crowd are only Objectivists in name, but not fully committed to the principles of Objectivism, one of which is to evaluate facts independantly and not blindly follow the herd.

About Dr. Peikoff, a few Objectivists I know from another forum had debated his idea of voting Democrat, but those of us who changed our position did so out of understanding the severity of the threat and what a religious theocracy would mean for Americans, as opposed to just more European-style Socialism. And the fact that we are getting expanded government anyway with the Republicans, it adds only more fuel to the fire that more than one good reason exists to remove them from power.

I have started listening to the 30-session course on Peikoff’s DIM Hypothesis, and it is the method of logic he presents therein which allows me to understand the danger of Misintegration over the lesser danger of Disintegration.

I come from a family of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, but frankly, I have no preference for either party. I’d vote Libertarian if I were going to even bother, but I’m with Kenneth R. Gregg on the issue of voting. It’s a waste of time and Democracy can be reduced to the realization that it’s really about two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

I’m aware of the heated battle going on between the Peikoff camp and the Branden camp. I am trying to keep a distance from that controversy in an effort to remain neutral and to discover the truth, if that’s possible. The fact is, there are a lot of people who read a few Ayn Rand books and then call themselves Objectivists. I am not one of those. I still consider myself a student, even after 42 years with Objectivism. I make lots of mistakes, my epistomology is often faulty and I’m grappling with contradictions in my Metaphysical understanding even to this day. I don’t think there are more than a handfull of people in this world that had as clear and non-contradictory understanding of Objectivism as Ayn Rand did, and later, Leonard Peikoff. And even Peikoff was not perfect. He made one mistake in public, letting his ego get out of control and bragging that he ‘stole a page’ from Ayn Rand’s works at the Library of Congress. Well that slip of the tounge cost him that manuscript page he held so dear. I would imagine he learned an important lesson from that experience. But I don’t fault him in his areas of work. He’s a master at Philosophy, and I suspect his DIM Hypothesis will be revelational in scope, as I come to understand it in its deeper layers.

I wish I could remember what the exact argument was, but in a lecture that my parents mentioned attending in New York many years ago, both Branden and Rand were present. Branden said something and my parents were commenting to eachother that he had made an error in his presentation. A minute later, Miss Rand interrupted him and corrected him. I remember my parents were feeling very good that they detected the flaw in Branden’s argument and had the confirmation from Miss Rand that they had been on the right track, even before she spoke up. They told me about it, some 39 years ago, but my failing memory is lost on what the topic was. I would love to discover what it was, so I could evaluate it myself.

I don’t believe that love is collectivist at all. It is a mutual sharing of common values, not a dogmatic oppression and egalitarianization of the masses. The two are vastly different entities.

That suicide bombers are commited to their cause is no surprise. Most if not all radical religious people are driven by emotion, not reason. Emotions are not tools of cognition, so when we attempt to use them as such, we make grave mistakes. Mysticiam is what enables these people to fall into the ‘groupthink’ of the bombers.

I don’t know how familiar you are with the Q’uran, but I have studied it after 9/11, seeking answers to the motivation behind it. I had found at least nine passages that called for proactive destruction of the infidels, or non-believers. Islam is not a tolerant religion. It is a religion that wishes to stand alone in the universe, with no competition. It is a parasite whose prime directive is to destory all that is not Islam and to control the minds of all who remain alive. The problem there IS Islam.

A true Objectivist is not immune to making an error, especially in a stressful situation, but he is better equipped to avoid falling into the trap of ‘groupthink’. I myself lived on the outside all these years, excommunicated from social circles, called a nutcase, and an extremist—some people even joked saying “so when are you going to blow up a few federal buildings” and other such nonsense. I have always been one to follow my own ideals. If the group was doing something I knew to be immoral, I stopped there. I could not go along with it. Even back in my school age days, I was a loner because my ideals and principles differed from the commonly accepted way of thinking. I reached a point where I didn’t care if I was different. In fact, today, I can be seen online, picking fights with Liberals and Neo conservatives left and right, enjoying the shock value of what I say, in an attempt to shatter their philosophical worlds. It’s almost a sport, but I do it in the attempt to open people’s minds and get them to think outside their little Socialist boxes.

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I make lots of mistakes, my epistemology is often faulty and I’m grappling with contradictions in my Metaphysical understanding even to this day.

Mark, I find this interesting. Metaphysics is a delimited subject, and philosophy [including of course Objectivism] is primarily epistemology. Do you mind discussing how it is you think your epistemology is faulty? I'm very interested in this.

-Victor-

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Mark,

There are some premises to be checked and there is plenty of time. I will only mention 3 points right now.

1. I have listened with great attention to the entire lecture series of the DIM Hypothesis. I found it severely wanting in scope and application, even misapplied to where it doesn't fit. However, the initial idea of trying to understand and categorize integration is a very good idea. There is an "integrating principle" operating in the universe and dissecting it is extremely useful.

My own hypothesis on Peikoff's motive for creating this is that he is trying to validate Rand's claim that philosophy is the single major shaping force of human history and progress, and ultimately it is what forges a culture. I hold that philosophy (and I include religion here) is one of the major forces, but there are others.

This is a long discussion for another time. There were many strange pronouncements Peikoff made. For example, I would have to listen again to get the right words, but if I understood him correctly, he claimed that deduction is not relevant or important to philosophy, only induction is. He made a point of stressing this. There's more, but like I said, let's do that later.

A new friend of mine from another country wrote a paper giving a very interesting theory for doing what Peikoff wants to do in analyzing and predicting culture. I found his approach superior on many levels. As this paper will be published before too long, I will not go into it here.

2. About the Qu'ran and Islam, I recently wrote an essay you might wish to look at: Initial Understanding of Islam on Fundamental Intellectual Issues. I don't buy the present notion among orthodox Objectivists of scapegoating Islam for all the evils of the world. There is a fundamentalist "world domination" strain that is very dangerous, but the rest is basically live and let live. (The Bible has many violent passages, too, and missionary work is nothing but an attempt at world domination. The issue is a bit deeper than the existence of a few verses.) Basically, my approach is to fight force with force and ideas with ideas.

3. In your posts, you seem to be going from a premise that Objectivism is a perfect philosophy and that mankind is imperfect, since it cannot measure up. One must strive to understand/practice the philosophy and then happiness or whatever is attained.

I hold the contrary. On one level, I find a human being to already be a perfect entity--what Rand called an end in himself. The philosophy is merely a tool. I do not find men defective per se. They merely have a specific nature that has been oversimplified in Objectivism.

In a nutshell, my own problem with many ideas in Objectivism is scope. Where it applies, it is correct almost all of the time. Unfortunately, many areas of life and existence are simply not acknowledged in Objectivist literature--or worse, they are denied.

The Objectivist theory of emotions is a prime example. In Objectivism they are derived solely from the pleasure/pain mechanism and it is claimed is that they are solely the result of ideas. Rand even claimed that she could program all over her emotions by conscious effort. Now here we come to scope. Some emotions derive from the pleasure/pain mechanism, some emotions result from ideas, and some emotions can be programmed by volition. Seen like this, Objectivism has much to contribute, even to psychology. But when a person tries to implement the all-inclusive package, the result is a disaster of guilt, frustration and unhappiness.

A very good approach from an Objectivist in trying to flesh out the nature of man in terms of emotions is Steven Shmurak. He will have an essay coming out in JARS shortly. I had the privilege of seeing some things first and I wrote an teaser introduction to the new article: The Wonderful Way Shmurak Faces Emotion.

This is more than enough to chew on for the time being.

Michael

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  • 2 months later...

I have never been so much interested in the subject of suicide bombers that I researched it beyond what is presented in the media and articles like what Barbara wrote. However I did come across a man who did research it and the conclusion was startling to me.

Suicide terrorism has very little to do with religion, including Islamic Fundamentalism.

If this is the case, this makes the bigotry of ARI (in the name of Objectivism) even more revolting than it has been in its campaign to promote the bombing of Islamist schools and places of worship.

A University of Chicago professor named Robert Pape wrote a book called Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.

He has made a study of suicide terrorist campaigns and individual suicide terrorists since 1980. In the book this timeline went up to 2003 and included 315 suicide terrorist attacks and 462 individual suicide terrorists. He concluded the following:

1. On a social level, suicide terrorism is aimed at expelling occupation of a homeland by a foreign democracy. The question is nationalism, not religion. Religion is only used as a divider—in other words, religious differences are important for suicide terrorism, not a specific religion.

2. On an individual level, a heavy dose of altruism is fundamental. Pape even uses the phrase "altruistic suicide."

Now THAT sounds like Objectivism.

Incidentally, it was reported that the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka has conducted more suicide terrorist attacks than any other. I had never even heard of the Tamil Tigers until reading this. It is mainly Marxist/Leninist, not religious.

I agree that Islamist Fundamentalism is a bad thing and needs to be fought. But facts are facts and it is a very small enemy compared to the really big one (altruism wedded to nationalism). If we are ever going to win the war on terrorism, we must face the correct facts.

Michael

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  • 2 months later...
Knowledge is power. There can be great advantages to joining a group of like-minded people, but we must know the dangers involved in such membership, and we must be very certain to keep sacrosanct our own independent view of reality. If we do not, we may not become suicide bombers, but we surely shall become cultists.

Barbara Branden

You don't even have to join a cult.

See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

Normal people can easily be turned into monsters.

With a little trickery we can all get in touch with our Inner Nazi.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf
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See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

Normal people can easily be turned into monsters.

Bob,

Thanks for the Wikipedia quote. I presume you only read the article and not the posts on the thread since the Milgram experiment was mentioned by Barbara here and she gave the following link: http://www.new-life.net/milgram.htm.

I also commented here on a place where the Migram Experiment was discussed and I provided a link to it (I found it extremely informative and fascinating): MIND CONTROL IN THE 21st CENTURY.

I am glad to see the Wikipedia link easily at hand, though. The discussion and links there nicely complement the information given here.

Michael

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