Terrorist v. Mucker ^2

Kevin Drum has jumped into the issue – on my side. Interesting comments, as well.

I’ll suggest a further distinction. Terrorism has a political dimension which blind rage lacks, and calls for a different set of responses.

If you believe that we need the same responses to disgruntled, depressed computer jocks as we do to the Aryan Nation and Al Qaeda, then the distinction doesn’t matter to you. At some level, this is an interesting parlor game – but until it can be tied to sensible policies, it is really just an argument over semantics.

It matters to me…

17 thoughts on “Terrorist v. Mucker ^2”

  1. Why are you running the Aryan Nation in with Al Qaeda here, in terms of ‘needing the same response’? We devoted a fair part of the Marine Corps and some of the Army to boot to the al Qaeda issue; the Aryan Nation hardly rises to that level of response.

    If you mean to say that they are the same kind of thing (but wildly different in terms of the level of threat they represent, and therefore the kind of response we’d assign to them), OK. Still, to cast it in terms of ‘needing the same response’ seems odd; clearly they don’t require anything like the same response. Indeed, the response we need to the Aryan Nation is probably at least as far as the response to al Qaeda as it is from the response to what you’re calling ‘muckers.’

  2. Terrorism is political in nature. Running amok is a “culture bound syndrome”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture-bound_syndrome and I think the American version of it is shooting up schools or blowing up buildings. The mistake is thinking there is some reasonable political goal or message. Publicizing the perpetrators and their methods is probably what fuels and perpetuates it, not any particular grievances, be they bullying or the IRS.

    Its a tricky problem, and at its heart it is irrational and random. How do you predict or defend something like that?

  3. The limit case is “Hume’s Horror” by which scratching an irresistible itch would wipe out the human race. Is there a coherent principle that would allow a society to restrain the fulfillment of such an innocuous urge, with such profound consequences? A lesser condition is the “individual veto” where the interests of one can effectively thwart the good of everyone else. This situation really isn’t that far off. It is a genuine horror, with no solution in the realm of the conventional. We get a little closer every day.

  4. That may be. We may need a better way of assigning a limit: but what is that way? An individual veto is too strong. Allowing, say, a 59-41 veto in the Senate to control? Lately, I’ve heard that was a bad thing.

  5. Well I’m talking about a 7 billion to one kind of veto, with a secret ballot. It’s not terrorism, per se. A better term might be “horrorism.”

  6. “The mistake is thinking there is some reasonable political goal or message.”

    The goal or message doesn’t have to be reasonable. The goal of a global caliphate is not at all reasonable and yet it still drives terrorism.

    I suppose, if you mean that it seems reasonable to the terrorists, that’s a different matter. However I suspect that everyone’s actions seem reasonable to themselves.

  7. I think what i mean to say is that even jihadists have a goal that _could_ be met, theoretically. The whole world _could_ convert to Islam.

    Muckers, on the other hand, don’t have any actual grievance that could be corrected, aside from perhaps life itself. Hence their incoherent, everything and the kitchen sink ramblings. Life didn’t work out for them and here’s the big FU to the world for it. You can’t even use empathy to try to predict something like that. Maybe the return policy at Kohls is intolerable, are you going to put metal detectors at all the doors?

    Muckers have some deep seated shame at their failures in navigating society. I think the only hope you have is to find _them,_ not to try to figure out what might set one off.

  8. Charles Manson ordered mass murders for the declared purpose of igniting a race war that would destroy western civilization and institute a new order. This was a political goal, and it was imagined in some detail. So, was Charles Manson a terrorist in the serious sense of the word?

    That hasn’t been the judgment of history. Manson was a petty loon, his Beatles-inspired ideology was moronic, and his crew of druggy hippie girls was pathetic. It doesn’t add up to anything more than a tragic accident of human genetics.

    Attempts to lump everything into “terrorism” are intended to diminish the assessment of politically relevant terrorism, in particular the terrorism of anti-western and anti-Israeli organizations, which is organized and funded on a massive scale. The political left wants to sneer this threat out of the public mind, because they are embarrassed by it, and because it sorts poorly with their political goals.

  9. Addendum, in response to some of the comments above, it makes no difference whether the political goals of the terrorist are realistic or not. Their ability to engage in sustained political violence on behalf of their unrealistic goals is what makes them a serious threat, which serious people cannot fail to recognize.

    Among the the goals of terrorists, the destruction of the state of Israel stands out as a future historical possibility. The destruction of “capitalism” is not a possibility, neither is the Fanon-style extermination of white people, or the conversion of the entire world to Islam. These things might be theoretically possible, but only in the sense that Superman and the Justice League are theoretically possible.

    When terrorists have access to money, organization, and state sponsors, then the absurdity of their political ambition makes them more dangerous, not less, because it insures that their violence will be sustained and intractable.

  10. I agree with that. The point is, there is an actual goal (no matter how loony and impossible) as opposed to simply rage that requires some target as a justification. If you look at these cultural phenomenon, they are people who for whatever reason can’t fit in with societal norms or expectations, and need a way out that is culturally relevant. Sadly, in our culture that means pinning an a note on their chest explaining why some pillar of society is evil and killing a bunch of innocent people. Even the action is insane, because in no plausible way is it productive (even terrorists and nutters like Manson believe their actions are productive toward their goals). Mucking isn’t done to be productive, ‘rationale’ is part of the ritual.

  11. _Their ability to engage in sustained political violence_

    I like the word “sustained” alot. If this guy, no matter how crazy his beliefs, was going to sustain this effort (especially in a larger group)

    Let’s face it, every suicider has a reason. The want us to know their reason, especially when it doesn’t make any sense. But once their deed is done, they do not have the ability to continue enacting terror. For example: If I worked in an IRS office today, I would not be nervous about airplane strikes.

    This was different than say, the anthrax, 9/11, london bombings & spainish bombings. Not just in scope, but the sense that additional attacks are just around the corner… that a group is plottting that can make multiple strikes anywhere at any time.

    In many ways mafia also enact terror campaigns… the idea that violence could be everywhere basically paralyzed italy for long chunks of time.

  12. Hannah Arendt observed that in the French Revolution terror was a tactic employed by the political center. That’s kind of an unsettling thought. We tend to think of it as the tactic of extremists, but Robespierre wasn’t of the indulgents or the enrages. He was the last resort of a society stumbling into self-destruction, and in love with death… a society that had found no solace in their Ur myths.

  13. Yeah, this is just getting more and more common, and the press coverage for these nutters isn’t helping any.

    I think what’s happening is a cultural breakdown of communities: as people fall through the cracks, there are fewer community resources to watch out for them…

  14. I disagree. I don’t think you ever catch many of these guys. Its easy to find warning signs after the fact, but honestly and sadly before they snap a lot of these people don’t seem extraordinary in any way. Those Columbine kids were painted to be bullied outcasts when in reality they were frighteningly average. Thats a hell of a lot scarier.

    During the Depression people jumped out windows. During the 70s they climbed towers with rifles. During the 90s they show up with guns at the high school (still in vogue obviously). Now they fly planes into buildings. I think it is far more a question of what is ‘in vogue’ for these loonies to make their last, angry, pathetic statement. Its a cultural ‘out’. You get your name in the newspaper, pundits talk about you, idiots make you internet shrines. It has nothing to do with making anything tangible different, and everything to do with indulging their final selfish fantasy.

    I think that is the basic psychological difference between Muckers and Terrorists. Terrorist can be delusional, but they really think what they do matters. Muckers know what they are doing doesnt matter AT ALL, which is basically their problem. Muckers make terrorists almost look good. At least they have an ethos Dude.

  15. As I see it the response to the Aryan Nation in the 80’s and to Al Quaeda today differ in tactics and legal framework – but they are the same ‘class’ of responses. Both involve mobilizing the appropriate mechanisms of the state’s fullest power (criminal justice and military respectively) to break up organizations.

    What do we mobilize against muckers? There’s no comparable ‘policy’ reaction.


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