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The End of Terror

December 25, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The power of terrorism is unavoidably linked to the emotional reactions of those not present. It is the overheard reports, the secondary eye-witness stories that relay the events that ultimately create panic and, as a result, the emotional power of terrorism. The actual act of terror, the bomb explosion at X location or the hijacking of X form of transportation at X location holds more emotional power than physical power- the panic inspired from an act will be greater to those outside the physical location of the act. Ultimately, in order for terrorism to be effective, a terrorist depends on the bystanders (whether a mile of thousands of miles away) to quake in fear of an act.

In this dependence on reaction we find the major fault of terrorism and a possible end of its use: over-exposure. Similarly to bad art or trash TV, the producers of material designed to shock an audience must fight the power of diluted reaction. Gradually the public accepts the state of material and moves forward. A decade ago the Jerry Springer Show shocked American audiences but today we find a deluge of more shocking programming that took note of Springer’s ideas and then ratcheted up the shock value. A program like Jackass would never be able to air in the 1950’s and yet in today’s entertainment environment its content grows tamer by the day. With comparison comes the need for exaggeration: the pubic needs the newest thing no matter if it shocks to taste buds or moral inclinations of vulgarity.

Just as trash TV faces the uphill battle to ratcheting up shock, terrorists also face the challenge of maintaining shock. An over-abundance of terrorist acts leads to the acceptance that these horrible events happen. Gradually the public accepts a world where extremists clamor at opportunities to kill citizenry or disrupt society in some form or another. “Its just the way things are,” some might say, a tragic and yet calming perspective that shows that human beings will never rattle in panic. This global reaction alone should teach terrorists that their methods are inherently faulted.

The point I seek to make is that terrorism will ultimately be impossible to conduct effectively. Gradually the public will come to accept terrorism as a way of life and stop reacting with panic. We will come to accept terrorist acts on Christmas, we will hear of a terrorist hijacking and understand it to be just another event of tragedy we have to swallow. Slowly with acceptance comes a reduction in the emotional power of terrorism. As this process takes hold the extremists of the world will reach a point where of the calculation of an act will sway to make it not worthwhile to act out. Such a calculation would appear like this:


Value of Terrorist Act = Public Reaction – Costs of Action

Interestingly, as we grow more accepting of terrorism, terrorists will need to ratchet up events which will lead to higher investments. Slowly the cost of terrorism will not be worth the investment. As our reaction dims the power or action slowly loses value and the costs of terrorism grow to steep.

Is there a lesson here? Perhaps. This remains just a basic observation after going to bed and wondering where the Christmas terrorist attack would be taking place. I wondered where and when it would happen, almost knowing that when I woke up this morning there would be a story, Unfortunately for the world such a story was in today’s headlines and though tragic and horrible, I can’t help but wonder how the constant onslaught of terrorist acts will slowly create the stale feeling of expectation that I felt last night. Is such a reaction more a psychological factor as acceptance actually internalize responses or with acceptance are we evolving to accept the ways things are and indirectly diluting the power of terrorist acts.

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