The Null Device


In his WIRED column, Bruce Schneier puts forward a new model for understanding why people become terrorists. The conventional model, that they do it to achieve political aims or address grievances, doesn't adequately describe the real world, in which terrorist groups have vague or changing goals and eschew actions more likely to actually achieve those goals, and the actual terrorists often adopt and change ideologies and targets at the drop of a hat. Instead, being a terrorist is not about changing the world, but rather about being part of a community:

The evidence supports this. Individual terrorists often have no prior involvement with a group's political agenda, and often join multiple terrorist groups with incompatible platforms. Individuals who join terrorist groups are frequently not oppressed in any way, and often can't describe the political goals of their organizations. People who join terrorist groups most often have friends or relatives who are members of the group, and the great majority of terrorist are socially isolated: unmarried young men or widowed women who weren't working prior to joining. These things are true for members of terrorist groups as diverse as the IRA and al-Qaida.
For example, several of the 9/11 hijackers planned to fight in Chechnya, but they didn't have the right paperwork so they attacked America instead. The mujahedeen had no idea whom they would attack after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, so they sat around until they came up with a new enemy: America. Pakistani terrorists regularly defect to another terrorist group with a totally different political platform. Many new al-Qaida members say, unconvincingly, that they decided to become a jihadist after reading an extreme, anti-American blog, or after converting to Islam, sometimes just a few weeks before. These people know little about politics or Islam, and they frankly don't even seem to care much about learning more. The blogs they turn to don't have a lot of substance in these areas, even though more informative blogs do exist.
All of this explains the seven habits. It's not that they're ineffective; it's that they have a different goal. They might not be effective politically, but they are effective socially: They all help preserve the group's existence and cohesion.
The implications of this theory are that terrorist groups are the emergent product of mass social alienation; which suggests a solution to terrorism: give everyone internet access and multiplayer online games. Which would mean that those drawn to malignant, tightly-knit social groups would merely become trolls and griefers rather than actual real-world terrorists.

alienation bowling alone society terrorism 2