Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

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.

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.

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.

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?

Osama Bin Laden: The Brand

May 3, 2011 1 comment

The death of Osama bin Laden is less the killing of an individual and more the loss of a brand.  After 9/11, bin Laden the man became a secondary entity; with the “War on Terrorism”, bin Laden became a symbol of hatred and goal of revenge that moved him beyond the human domain and into this arena of abstraction.

After 9/11 his power stemmed less from his active planning and action and more a function of symbol and totem. The bin Laden brand was a powerful one with a global resonance. As with all brands and symbols, though, the clones stemmed from inspiration distort the perception of the inspirational symbol. Harold Bloom’s theory of “Anxiety of Influence” rings true here as the figures that Osama Bin Laden inspired had to do more than their inspiration and, when linked to bin Laden lead to a reassessment of the brand. Bin Laden’s mirrors expanded and gradually distorted the original image by using decapitation and numerous events that killed more innocent figures than “targets”.

By 2010 the power of Bin Laden’s brand was lost. New forms of revolution that used social media and idealism replaced the bin Laden brand of violence and high religion. While Bin Laden’s death is a major victory for the American military and the political machine, its significance will remain only a nostalgic one unless lives are saved. In this arena there are no victories beyond the everyday lives of the populations surrounding these actions. Everything else is mere theater or politics.

The Great Empowerment Machine

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Certain human creations are unique in their provision of user empowerment. Communication is often the common gift provided by these machines and we easily trace the series of improvements through certain technologies. In many of the ways the printing press gave way to a mail system (to deal with slow speed), the telephone replaced the telegraph and now the internet sweeps in to the role of dominant communication medium. User empowerment is the common thread of all technologies but as communication technologies have evolved there was slowly developed a new depth of empowerment wherein a user actively engages with the technology to affect society.Where older technologies performed a social role, the internet has created a forum wherein individuals can use their gadgets to rock the social foundations.

Just as we can trace the evolution of communication technology via specific devices so to can we observe certain individuals whose use of communication technology uses new levels of empowerment. In these figures we see a common desire of broad outreach and a recognition that communication technology provides access to the audience. Just as all performers seek out a large audience, figures interested in “broadcasting” their message seek out areas (in this case technologies) that best serve this need. Herein we have an indirect indicator of which technologies are significant: if an individual interested in making big waves chooses “Technology X” we can rest assured he or she has spent time considering the best communication avenue and in making their selection indicates “X” to be the most efficient format.

The internet is unique in its broad capability to communicate on a large scale at extremely low prices. As Jonathan Zittrain and others have noted, one of the most revolutionary features of the internet is the low cost of access and utilization. Unlike previous technologies the internet provides relatively affordable access to a huge and growing population.With the internet we see a new batch of revolutionaries seeking out an audience. I won’t mention names in this post, but many of these figures have emerged in just the last six months. So rich is the internet’s capability of providing broad access that we see the feature of viral content where a small piece of media takes hold of the population and attains a major audience.In many ways this ability is exactly what a revolutionary wants and in fact needs to attain their intended role.

Unlike other technologies that improved human communication, the internet is the great empowerment machine to all citizens. With minor costs of utilization and access to a broad audience the internet is an ideal medium for anyone interested in reaching a massive audience. We can trace this trend in the actions of those craving our attention: if a revolutionary chooses the internet to broadcast a message it is the internet that is the dominant communication platform of our time.

The End of Terror

December 25, 2010 Leave a comment

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.

The New Warrior

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Who is to know when a bomb explodes inside a shopping mall? Who beyond those unfortunate souls stumbling at the wrong place at the wrong time? Such a moment rich in tragedy is ultimately the memory of a global blend of eyes who through our extensive media network view these experiences from an extensive variety of perspectives. In today’s world the localized tragedy is a moment rich in news potential which, if packaged for consumption, extends beyond the physical locality and blooms into a globally witnessed moment.

Our network of media provides a viewpoint to the world. Through our technological devices we gaze outward to the world and sponge the moments of our world. This is a good thing; of course, but one result is the shared awareness of this networks power which creates a system which celebrates big moments and creates a forum in which the sources of major disasters can have an affect on the hearts and minds of those beyond the physical location of the event. The extensive media network allows those who aim to “make a statement” to transcend the physical realm. Our media is a bittersweet production which has born a revolutionary system of both of awareness and of action.

Of the most valuable tools to a warrior, the media is now positioned as the most important. No longer is a bomb of bullet’s pathway the device of destruction. It is the global media coverage that spawns the reaction that the new warrior needs. Now a bomb blast is followed by a group claiming responsibility- an act of absurd required bragging used to establish the actor’s existence inside the global media. Without our global media network these events remain constrained inside the local realm. It is through our media coverage that these events and actors reach transcension and reach a level of global influence.

Ultimately the new warrior has only minor uses for devices which cause physical damage. These items are the minor means to and end which create the fervor to garner the media’s attention. Though their bombs create pain and suffering, establish a hell-on-earth scenario for the surrounding location of the act, the strongest blast comes only when the cameras roll and reporters spread news of the action far beyond the crater in the pavement.

Such a system provides an easy opportunity to control actors who aim to earn “big influence” through the use of smaller scaled actions. These are not figures using deadly force to kill thousands or eliminate regions; instead, these figures do damage on the local scale. Though both deadly, the “smaller scale” actions are wholly dependent on media coverage to achieve the intended goals of fear and influence.

A resolution to global terror? Perhaps just minor, but one major reduction in clout is to eliminate the media coverage of the actions of terrorists. Extensive coverage only serves to establish awareness and influence. Reports must be created but must we include the names of groups? Do we need to explain the rich history and network from which our band of extremists harkens? Let us change our ways and instead use anonymous reports that use “an extremist from X country” or members of an extremist group,” such systems while vague eliminate the creation of awareness that only serves to establish these groups power. After all, how do we know of Osama bin Laden? Is not our awareness only a recognition of the media coverage he has been given? Instead let’s deny him and figures like him the attention that our media provides. If, as adults who respond to an attention-demanding child, we choose to deny our attention and refuse to fall into the trap laid before us, we teach the lesson of awareness which, though ironic, proves us even more focused.


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