Psychologizing Jihadis

I reproduce below the introduction to a long article in the Left-leaning "New Scientist" which is reasonably scholarly but which ignores what Jihadis say, and, indeed, what the Koran says.

It looks at the functioning of brain regions and finds only very equivocal evidence for the view that  Jihadis have different brains.  So they then resort to discussing Jihadis in a group  dynamics context.  In an academic way they draw the familiar conclusion that the Jihadis "just got in with a bad crowd".  And they firmly reject the conclusion that Jihadis are evil.  And they do eventually conclude that Jihadis are not psychologically  abnormal.

But is getting in with a bad crowd sufficient to explain the extraordinarily evil behaviour that we get from (say) ISIS? Their behavior is a long way away from the civilized norms in which most of the Jihadis have grown up, so surely needs detailed explanation.  And similar behaviour by the Nazis also needs to be explained.  But what does explain it?  The article below offers next to nothing towards such an explanation.

But the explanation is no mystery at all. Nazis, Jihadis and their ilk have in fact been keen to explain themselves to us.  Given their assumptions, what they do is perfectly rational.  What they do, they do in expectation of a great reward.  It is very similar to what happens in a field we know well: capitalism.  If the expected reward is great, some people will take all sorts of risks to get it.  Why does anybody start up a business when he knows (or should know) that around 90% of new businesses go broke within a year?  Because he expects to make a "killing".  Note the parallelism.  The businessman's "killing" simply means a lot of money.  Great profits are expected.

So Nazis and Jihadis do what they do because they expect a large reward from it.  Normal rules can be disregarded because of the magnitude of the reward.  So what is that reward?  The article below puts it well when it notes that "Young people need a dream. Appeals for moderation will never be attractive to youth, yearning for adventure, for glory, for significance”.  Not all Nazis and Jihadis have of course been young but it does seem to be mainly young people who have flocked to such movements.

And Islam in fact offers rewards of that sort to young and old.  The aim of Jihad is to subjugate the world to Islam. So that offers adventure, glory and significance to anyone who participates.

Nazism offered similar heroic visions.  Nazis  fought for F├╝hrer, Volk (race) and Vaterland (homeland).  Their ideals were Courage, Honor, and Loyalty. The "Nazizeit" was a immensely exciting era for Germany.  The song of the Hitler youth below may give you some sense of it. The translations are good but do not match the power of the original German

Music is very powerful emotionally and Nazis had the unparalleled German talent for music at their disposal.  The German lands are home to the timeless music of Bach, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven.  And that does matter.

And for Jihadis too there are many rewards. As well as the worldly rewards mentioned above, there is religion. It is easy for us to mock it but don't forget that most of the world is  religious.  Jihadis really believe what the Koran tells them: That if they die in battle fighting the infidel they will pop off straight to heaven and be waited on there forever after by seventy beautiful women. And, given the puritanical nature of Islam, that may be the only sort of woman many of them will ever get. So, at the risk of putting it too frivolously, Islam has great sex appeal!

And one thing that Jihadis and Nazis have in common is that both have taught adherents that they are special and superior by virtue of their beliefs.  Being a member of a master race or master religion obviously feels good.  The Nazis were not however looking to an afterlife.  They thought that once they had conquered the vast lands to their East, each German could become a gentleman farmer with serfs to do his bidding.  Most of Europe was once organized on feudal lines like that so it was not an unrealistic  dream.  That was not the whole of the Nazi incentive system but I have written about that in much detail elsewhere.

So where does that leave us with the Jihadis?  It leaves us where we are with the Nazis. You cannot appease them, you cannot change them, you cannot buy them off, you cannot deter them, you cannot talk them out of it.  The rewards that lure them are too great for any of that.  You can only destroy them.

And destroying them will be unlikely to be possible without destroying much of their support system, which is the whole Muslim world.  To adapt a saying by Mao Tse Tung, the Jihadis are fish who swim in the sea of their people so the sea may have to be drained to eradicate them.  Many Muslims may have to die from bombing etc. if a serious attempt to eradicate the Jihadis is made.  And, if that seems too harsh, do note that exactly that is happening right now in the lands occupied by ISIS.  Does anybody seriously think that it is only Jihadis who are dying in the bombing campaigns?  Most of the dead will simply be people from the sea in which the Jihadis swim.

So if a nuclear device were dropped on the ISIS headquarters of Raqqa, it would just do at once what is already happening gradually -- but would also be an unambiguous sign to the Jihadis that their Jihad cannot succeed.  In 1945, nukes tore the heart out of the Bushido warriors of Japan, real tough guys. They should have a similar impact on the slime of ISIS, or what remains of them

And President Trump might just do it.


Now to look at what "New Statesman says

WHY would an apparently normal young adult drop out of college and turn up some time later in a video performing a cold-blooded execution in the name of jihad? It’s a conundrum we have been forced to ponder ever since a group calling itself ISIS declared war on infidels. But 70 years ago we were asking something similar of guards in Nazi concentration camps – and, sadly, there have been plenty of opportunities to ponder the matter in between.

What turns an ordinary person into a killer? The idea that a civilised human being might be capable of barbaric acts is so alien that we often blame our animal instincts – the older, “primitive” areas of the brain taking over and subverting their more rational counterparts. But fresh thinking turns this long-standing explanation on its head. It suggests that people perform brutal acts because the “higher”, more evolved, brain overreaches. The set of brain changes involved has been dubbed Syndrome E – with E standing for evil.

In a world where ideological killings are rife, new insights into this problem are sorely needed. But reframing evil as a disease is controversial. Some believe it could provide justification for heinous acts or hand extreme organisations a recipe for radicalising more young people. Others argue that it denies the reality that we all have the potential for evil within us. Proponents, however, say that if evil really is a pathology, then society ought to try to diagnose susceptible individuals and reduce contagion. And if we can do that, perhaps we can put radicalisation into reverse, too.

Following the second world war, the behaviour of guards in Nazi concentration camps became the subject of study, with some researchers seeing them as willing, ideologically driven executioners, others as mindlessly obeying orders. The debate was reignited in the mid-1990s in the wake of the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. In 1996, The Lancet carried an editorial pointing out that no one was addressing evil from a biological point of view. Neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried, at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to rise to the challenge.

In a paper published in 1997, he argued that the transformation of non-violent individuals into repetitive killers is characterised by a set of symptoms that suggests a common condition, which he called Syndrome E (see “Seven symptoms of evil“). He suggested that this is the result of “cognitive fracture”, which occurs when a higher brain region, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) – involved in rational thought and decision-making – stops paying attention to signals from more primitive brain regions and goes into overdrive.

“The set of brain changes has been dubbed Syndrome E – with E standing for evil”

The idea captured people’s imaginations, says Fried, because it suggested that you could start to define and describe this basic flaw in the human condition. “Just as a constellation of symptoms such as fever and a cough may signify pneumonia, defining the constellation of symptoms that signify this syndrome may mean that you could recognise it in the early stages.” But it was a theory in search of evidence. Neuroscience has come a long way since then, so Fried organised a conference in Paris earlier this year to revisit the concept.

At the most fundamental level, understanding why people kill is about understanding decision-making, and neuroscientists at the conference homed in on this. Fried’s theory starts with the assumption that people normally have a natural aversion to harming others. If he is correct, the higher brain overrides this instinct in people with Syndrome E. How might that occur?



Trump Reveals Plan to Defeat ISIS

In a new radio ad, Donald Trump outlines his plan to defeat ISIS:

    "The tragic attacks in Paris prove once again that America needs to get tough on radical Islamic terrorism. President Obama and other politicans have consistantly failed us. Just hours before the attacks in Paris, President Obama said ISIS had been contained. It is amazing that the United States could have a president who is so out of touch. It is also dangerous.

Obama has no strategy to defeat ISIS and now he is preparing to let hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria into the United States. I will stop illegal immigration. We will build a wall on the southern border, and yes, I will also quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.

We'll make the military so strong, no one and I mean no one, will mess with us. If I win, we will not have to listen to the politicans who are losing the war on terrorism, we will make America safe, and we will make America great again.

Unlike President Obama, Trump makes no bones about calling the problem- radical Islam- out by name. It's this plain spoken certitude that has made him the favorite of GOP voters.


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