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The Terms of Terror: Semantic Adjustments Via Tragedy

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Turmoil’s effects on individuals extends far beyond those directly involved. Though not present, those who become aware of an event take on a minor role in the experience. Suddenly awareness becomes reaction and perspective. These minor actors are distant participants in the story, but play the crucial role in defining the true effects of an event. Even the most horrible attack possible is dependent on other’s awareness in order to have power. Tragedy that occurs without anyone knowing of it dies with the victims. For a terrorist, the ultimate risk is eliminating witnesses.

Herein lies the power of terrorism- though a small cluster of individuals physically experience a terrorist attack, a far larger response comes in the form of those who simply hear about the event. By exposure we become part of the story and a minor act in the event. Terrorists use these reactions to create power: a small militia’s true power lies in its ability to inspire emotional reactions in those far away from the actual attack.

Adjustments to norms stemming from these events are often semantic in nature: our personal notion of the term “devastation” must be adjusted when presented with “devastation” beyond our sense of the word. Emotionally reacting to what we see, we alter our sense of what devastation is, increasing magnitude, and update our vocabulary to include terms capable of referring to these terms.

Likewise, we make adjustments in moments of extreme happiness. These adjustments occur (hopefully) more often and are often referred to as expectations. A romantic getaway is only as valuable in comparison to the getaways of the past and future. An individual will experience the event and compare it his or her previous experiences, the experiences she has heard of from others and maybe even her own fantasies of possible vacations. Moments never occur in bubbles- every experience exists to be compared to moments of previous, potential and future forms.

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