Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Slippery Words

September 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Political skill revolves around a slippery use of language. When “civilian casualties” becomes “collateral damage” we double dilute our meaning by turning the death of innocent human beings into vague, fuzzy notions. What is collateral or citizens for that matter? The blood on the pavement is horror realized and the only way to come to terms with its existence is to muddle and hide. For those tasked with maintaining order or whose actions lead to such situations, a distortion of language might be less about the audience and more the interior of the speaker.

How do evildoers come to terms with what they do? Is evil a quality of being able to disregard disgusting acts? Kant’s categorical imperative can be simplified to ask, “If everyone else does what I do, can society function?” It expands the actions of one to the group as a whole. Doing so reveals how certain things that occur on a small-scale can only occur without damage at the small-scale. If we all disregard the speed limit the roads will be chaos, but a few speeders can be tolerated.

Likewise a manipulation of language can only occur on the small-scale. When leaders distort language there must be figures who correct them. Not all will be capable of this action and those who cannot are likely to fall victim to the distortion. The strength of society lies in those who refuse to be manipulated and utilize critical thinking to respond to what occurs. One can think but action is required. Extending beyond the ivory tower is the real act of heroism. Your papers may be published and thousands may re-tweet, like and favor but all is naught is nothing is done.

The Coward’s Way

July 27, 2013 Leave a comment

“A screaming comes across the sky,” writes Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow. Though set in World War II, Pynchon’s novel reminds us of the sheer terror of war technology and new-found means of delivery. Whether drones or IEDs, war technology can now come from a distance and provide warriors with an ability to kill from a distance. This ability comes as a contrast to older forms of warfare where warrior met warrior. In today’s war there are variable forms of battlefield. No longer do we limit war to self-contained battlefields; instead, entire regions are open to attack. Terrorism further expands these notions of battlefield so that citizens and their public spaces are viable targets.

Do these evolutions suggest a new-found form of war? Is war a game of cowards now? Surely the use of remote technology exists for its claimed benefit of allowing war from a distance. No longer must the soldier face the hazards of the battle field. In our new form of war the battle takes place somewhere else and despite the higher risk of innocent casualties, the muddied terms of war grow increasingly popular. War exists without definition when a battle field is never actually defined. A war that exists everywhere ironically exists nowhere as any place and person plays a part.

Despite our sense of progress with remote technologies we remain blind to the real costs of war. Technology often assists us in making the pains of reality more tolerant. Communication is easier and the daily chores of life become more focused with technology. Does war also benefit from these conveniences? Perhaps a better form of war is what existed in the past. Crude and ugly, the war that exists on the defined battle field recognizes the horrors at play. Working to expand and muddy our definition of war only serves to spread its pain further. War technology accomplishes less in its existence as a remote format. If battle we must than we might better be served by the goal of limiting its exposure.

A Super Mario Generation

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Are we living in a Super Mario moment? Soldiers, contractors and hackers release data and breach codes of conduct out of a “sense of duty.” Discarding “codes of honor” for the cause of information freedom, they discard one set of abstractions for another. “Information wants to be free!” they say. But at what point does this swapping of abstraction read less an act of patriotism and more an act of misguided motivation.

The story of the lone actor casting himself against an insurmountable force is a common plot line of many hacker/leaker stories. One figure with access to secret information feels a need to reveal the secret detail. Doing so violates his/her code of honor but such violations are seen as justified for the benefit of the public. The lone actor sacrifices himself for the better good: throwing it all away for our benefit of knowing.

In these quests of individualism we see a lone actor working against a far stronger enemy. The hero works to liberate a perceived purity being held by perceived tyranny. This game of abstraction reads well in certain lights. The minor hero works despite the odds and is our classic underdog. And yet, what source for this narrative can be trace to this generation? Is this a generation of Super Mario brothers whose quest against the American government mimes Mario beating Bowser?

Who is the Princess here? Are we so distorted that abstract concepts like freedom of information, the right to keep private data or other perceived ethical rights recently developed by technology at play? Has this generation fallen so far into post-modern malaise that the great causes are less about protecting the innocent and more the rights to hide your photos or keep your secret chats a secret?

Of course there is a great importance to the privacy of data. Users must be made aware of how their information is used and be provided with ways to opt-out or function without the data being collected. Knowledge is power and if once enabled he/she chooses to provide this data for the benefit of free software so be it. Perhaps the market for more secret data via paid software can develop from this world.

What remains different though is this data deemed secret. If provided with access to secret information it remains a duty to protect it. Do you object? Do you feel its collection is a violation of the law? So be it, but the worst action is to release it. A fool is one who senses a hole in the dam and decides it best to blow it all away. A bad system needs fixing, not destruction. A real hero works to resolve a conflict. See a hole? Fix it! Do you sense a violation of privacy laws? Then leave with honor and work to gain real access to the avenues of change. Become a leader and be a fix.

Minor Major Movements

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

The most pernicious sort of annoyance is the one that strikes one slowly. The gentle ticking or slow, nearly silent whining of a drill in use. Unlike the major disturbance: the explosion, flash of light, or physical assault, the gradual and gentle approach leaves the soft annoyances prone to strike more deeply.

We can learn much from this reality. Strike at your enemy not with a rapid fire assault; instead, repeat an annoying pop song endlessly. The powerful flash of light may blind one temporarily but upon recovery the threat is not only aware of hazard but prime to respond. The better technique is slow and soft, the ever-present strobe or wave that gains acceptance by virtue of existence. We’ll accept if it’s not too annoying or if its occasional disrupting force leaves us capable of working as we were.

Leave the pattern of behavior uninterrupted and the invasion will certainly succeed. It is only via our reactions that we know to fend of a danger. Each of us is a toad in the water: blissfully unaware as the heat rises up to boil us alive. Don’t dare shock the water; instead, warm it slow and soft and we may just cuddle snugly at our killer and welcome with a grin the very force that seeks to squash.

Crisis as Response

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

A crisis is often defined by a moment of unexpected disaster: an airline crash, a bankruptcy or moment of personal failure. In a moment something changes and the world we knew is altered. We achieve “crisis” by these moments but a closer consideration shows that crisis is less about the drama and more the response.

In crisis we are forced to respond. A change to our reality requires us to develop new behaviors in order to cope with change. Herein the examples are common: disasters whether personal or societal apply. Too often we reflect on crisis as these moments of drama. This is not correct; instead, it is our response that defines crisis and the moments of heightened emotion stem not from initial dramas but reflections born after the event.

Dramatic events arrive without expectation. We are stunned when we hear of a disaster. Crisis comes here- this moment of realization and reaction and allows us numerous options of response. For many there are moments of crisis that do not warrant a response. A lone actor in a distant location will recognize his or her inability to affect a change and will choose instead to look away. Such inaction comes not from lack of concern but the realization that nothing can be done and a more pressing need exists. Reaction makes the difference.

When we consider crisis it is best to recognize the reaction as the feature that defines crisis. We decide our response and create the terms of the crisis. Over-reaction is dangerous but common when emotions are engaged. A smart response can control the crisis and lead us away from over-extension or misguided response. The cool head prevails and in crisis we are served best by knowledge that what we do is far more important that what is done to us.

Unintended Damage: Reactions and Response

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Mass violence creates dual layers of destruction. An immediate layer of destruction comes as the moment occurs: a mass shooting causes injuries and death at the scene of the act. This is the most powerful moment of drama, the moment when an actor’s plans are carried out. In a sense, this initial moment is when victims are created: plans become reality.

The initial moment is fast, but its reaction is the secondary layer of destruction and creates more long-term changes that will affect those beyond the initial scene of the crime. In our reaction we aim with the best intentions of prevention: we sense a vulnerability and do what we can to protect ourselves from a similar act. These reactions are crucial to protect ourselves but come with an adjustment to our society and often requires an elimination of personal freedom. If acts of violence depend on areas of vulnerability we must eliminate these vulnerabilities to be safe. Complete safety requires complete control…but is this what we want?

A weak, but accurate image is to imagine society as a cardboard box. As the animal in this sanctuary the vulnerabilities we need to breathe and see only serve us if they keep us safe. A delicate balance must be found. History helps us calibrate our society but emotion makes us prone to rapid change and we may find panic inspiring us to cover more holes and hide ourselves away. Moving to a system of protection may feel better but we risk losing the culture of ideas we need to stay alive. A healthy society can only exist if dangerous ideas and people can exist. Yes, it is a hazard and yes we will be hurt over and over, but our freedom is too important to trade away for notions of better safety. One wonders whether these moves to better safety are even affective: will not dangerous people find ways to hurt others if the inspired? How much can we do to protect ourselves from human enthusiasm.

Text Reflection: Riccardo Orizio’s ‘Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators’

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Riccardo Orizio’s ‘Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators’ is a collection of interviews with individuals closely related to seven deposed dictators. Often spouses or family friends, these relations provide unique glimpses into the psyche of despotic leaders and those who choose to support their questionable behavior. As with all texts, one can read from different perspectives with varied levels of reward. Yes, a historical perspective provides a glimpse into the psyches of critical figures from significant points in history, but a more rewarding read comes in reading this text as a seven part study of human psychology. Though charged with historical details, these seven interviews are more valuable as perspectives into the ways in which human beings can distort their own behavior and the reactions that come from powerful decisions.

One can find many similarities among the seven figures profiled in Orizio’s text. Each seems obsessed with personal glory and distorting the historical events that gave way to his or her removal. Each figure views history from a subjective lens whereby misfortune and failure are mere temporary hiccups on the path to eternal glory. Eternity and time is likewise a major factor with each of these figures: each perceives his or her existence as an eternal journey whereby greatness is achieved through arduous battle and sacrifice.

Pain surrounds each of the seven figures. Each disposed of those who choose to disagree with policy or who openly challenged his or her established power. There is blood all over these figure’s hands: death via darkness and mystery is a constant companion and the concern for maintaining power is a major talisman for each. Once established each figure functioned less as an advocate for the nation and more as a personal advocate whose grip on power only grew stronger with time and vanquished challenges.

Reading Orizio’s text, one perceives the inherent weakness in human psychology. One may consider the text as a revelation that human beings are inherently incapable of being sole leaders of major countries. Is the text a document explaining the benefits of a shared (democratic) system? The text does not suggest such notions; though, present in each story is a narrative of personal struggle and slaughter focused largely on maintaining personal power. Absolute power may not corrupt all, but Orizio shows us seven figures whose destruction came largely with the provision of power. Are these figures any different than the rest of the population?

The Terms of Terror: Semantic Adjustments Via Tragedy

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Rabid Rage: Means to Social Destruction

August 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Events in Egypt and, more recently, England, reveal the power in social cohesion. A popular belief exists that assumes a fragmented society whose technological goodies function largely to break down group cohesion and celebrate profound individuality. Devices that provide each person certainly do provide each user to exist in a community of speakers, but those who fail to recognize the ability for devices to link and expand ideas fails to recognize the true power of technology.

Though soft and fun for some, technology’s adaptability provides human ingenuity with devices to enact historic states of change. Alterations of technology have long existed in a culture sense- hip hop artists who used digital samplers to capture and recycle sounds created a new art form of audio collage. Extending beyond these uses, devices became less a handy gadget and quickly a tool whose unknown or hidden features provided the individual with an ability to communicate in new ways. Suddenly a hack gave way to an art form.

When utilized towards a common goal, technology can function to provide a small group with massive amounts of power. Technology with a communication element can be combined with other communication technologies to create a powerful collective. When clustered, devices can be cobbled together for profound effects. The critical variable is the intended result. Given this power, how does a group deploy the cadre of devices. Does one want to connect with friends or share items for culture? Tech can certainly allow one with this ability but if charged with more powerful desires these same gadgets give one the ability to spark revolution, create new art forms and revolutionize the ways in which a previously indifferent public responded to daily happenings.

One of the major alterations that the revolutions in the Middle East will reveal is the expanded sense of how technology can be used for revolution. While the final states of the countries remains in question, the means to justify these as-yet-uncertain ends exists as an established fact. The revolutions used technology to garner major changes and while the world watched in wonder it became apparent that new tools existed for these means. Watching on the very same devices used in the streets, tech-savy users were able to look away from their devices and see the powerful cadre at their disposal. Suddenly the angry teenager in his bedroom could see his collection of toys not as mere distractions but as weapons to a new society.

The internet has drastically altered the uses of technology. Given the ability to link communication devices, dissidents and unhappy individuals can grapple their society with affordable toys and gadgets. Recent history has revealed the power of these devices and with expanded reflection and technological development, the uses of technology to garner major change will reap major changes to the world. Chaos has a new face in the world and in its arms is likely an internet connected device with the ability to share the action on the street and inspire others to join the fight.

Affects and Effects: Unintended Consequences

July 26, 2011 Leave a comment

One could distort a common phrase and suggest for every action there are reactions beyond all expectation. Terrorism is the most powerful example and most profound demonstration of actions expanding with our interpretation. A terrorist attack is an action of limitation: an “actor” creates a state of havoc in a designated location at a designated time. The terrorist attack is limited in scope: its effect cannot expand beyond the location, time and population of that specific spot. Though devastating, the greatest amount of power comes from our response to the attack. Therein lies the true powerful effect of a terrorist attack: the response.

Great power can be defined as the ability to create major effects with small actions. In order to be powerful, the individual must overcome the inherent limitations of individual existence and connect on a large scale. The individual is limited in means but counters these limitations through the use of emotional responses. Humans are herd like and respond when emotionally prompted. Arouse emotions and the individual becomes a powerful figure. When one utilizes these emotions the “small pebble” individual drops into society’s pond and sets off a tsunami.

When a terrorist act takes place the effect of the action extends far beyond the location. Human fear enters the picture and a single action takes on psychological and social importance. Humans change the way they act, alter the perceptions with which they interpret the world and truly alter the way a society functions. As devastating as the attacks of September 11th were, the more profound effects came in the reactions that followed the attacks. America’s natural psychological response in which we contextualize the horror became an adjustment to the zeitgeist.

We may never know the profound effects of the constant barrage of terrorist threat. Though the chance of being attacked remains small, each individual within a society holds the notion that it could happen. Such preparedness creates a mindset of reaction. Distorted as we are, these altered perceptions of reality become significant in our day-to-day reactions. Perhaps our cultural existence is less about what we experience in culture and day-to-day life but by the events that could be. Are we victims of the what-could-be? Are we crippled by the potential hazards that may befall us no matter the statistical proof that such notions are highly unlikely?

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