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Terrorism is not about terror (gwern.net)
184 points by Artistry121 on Oct 5, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments

Biggest problem with analyzing terrorism is in the definition.

Classifying both Hezbollah and al-Qaeda as terrorist groups means that you have spread the definition for any group that may have bombed civilians at some time or another. I would claim that Hezbollah is much more than terrorist group. Their success or failure does not depend on terrorism.

Second bias might be exclusion of successful terrorism that is later legitimized. For example, are IZL and Stern Gang included? I would say that they were highly successful. How about Stalin and early communists in Russia? If terrorists have enough support and are successful early, terrorism turns into ethnic cleansing and/or revolution and it is taken out from the list.

Third problem is that terrorism seems by definition be the underdog because official or state terrorism is excluded. Many dictators use terrors successfully as tactics (kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians or relatives of their opponents) but this does not fit under terrorism. Taiwans White Terror or Augusto Pinochet used terror as tactics but it's not classified as that.

> terrorism seems by definition be the underdog because official or state terrorism is excluded

While the definition may be nebulous, clearly the U.S. supported terrorism in Cuba and Nicaragua on massive scales that matches concretely what is called terrorism generally. E.g. death squads murdering and raping civilians, bombing airplanes hospitals and embassies, mining commercial harbors. Hard to believe if you're a patriot but you owe it to yourself to read up on the history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_and_state-sponso...

Also, the U.S. Phoenix Program in Vietnam explicitly was terrorism in the eyes of its own perpetrators: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Program

Arguably the drone assassination program going on right now in the Middle East is also a form of terrorism. Just imagine how you'd feel if China was flying drones over the U.S., killing people at their pleasure, without trial, sometimes wiping out hospitals and weddings and bystanders in the process. Even if you believed that China was trying to eliminate violent elements of a neo-Nazi insurrection which for some reason a collapsed U.S. government was powerless to stop.. how would you feel when you hear those Chinese death planes buzzing overhead? Might you be a bystander? Might you be targeted? Living with that generates resentment and resentment drives people to extremism (in this scenario, you'd probably be more likely to join an anti-China militant group, such as the hypothetical dominant hard-right one). Which ultimately supports the conclusion of the paper: that terrorism is counter-productive.

That is, unless the goal is actually not to stop terrorism, but to drive people to extremism.... something to think about.

(If you think that's far-fetched, would it be so difficult to believe that in this scenario China's motive was not really to stop neo-Nazism, but rather to justify increased intervention in the U.S. to prevent a strong competitive government from emerging? Just look at Israel for an example of this playbook on a smaller scale: provoking and driving Palestinians to extremism to further justify their oppression and taking more land. Just one example among many, but it's one the U.S. directly supports.)

Right. There are certainly definitions we could come up with that would be internally consistent but then they would also apply to someone we didn't want to apply the label to.

Like us.

Just wait til you see what is classified as "counter-terrorism"

The original definition of terrorism is "government by intimidation"[1]. i.e. If a government uses terror to control it's populace, it's terrorism, e.g., U.S. government intimidating it's workers not to whistle-blow is one example. Somewhere along history it flipped to "intimidation of governments". Whichever way you read the word, however, the U.S. is a state sponsor of terrorism[2], having provided support to Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden when they were fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, amongst many others[3][4], not withstanding the acts causing terror such as the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital[5], and in 2013 giving weapons to Syrian Rebels[6], which we know ISIS & Al-Qaeda[7] are the biggest factions.

To answer your question, Pinochet, Taiwan government in 70's, Stalin, would all be terrorists, according to the original definition of terrorism, as in "intimidation by governments". Somewhere along the way propaganda completely reversed the meaning of the word to "intimidation of governments by non-government actors". Either way, the word "terrorism" used in propaganda everywhere, it is a loaded word used carefully with craft to manipulate the people's perception of nefarious activities performed by governments from all around the world, the biggest of which is the U.S. government.

Terrorism, the word itself, is the weapon.

Terrorism are certain activities performed by one's enemies, when one wishes to use the word terrorism to intimidate the populace to allow the government to implement draconian policies.

1. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/may/07/terrorism

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegations_of_CIA_assistance_...

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_and_state-sponso...

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Allen_Davis_incident

5. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/05/us-bombs-doctors-without...

6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-b...

7. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/1...

U.S. claims to only supply weapons to "moderate" rebels, and U.S. describes Al-Qaeda as "moderate".

> Somewhere along the way propaganda completely reversed the meaning of the word to "intimidation of governments by non-government actors".

It's a bit more nuanced than that. For the first 100 or so years "terrorism" was self proclaimed policy by revolutionaries of all sorts, for example the first French Republic or a number of Russian 19th century anarchist factions. The term did not originate as propaganda or a political slur, it was proud banner of the activists at the time. Perhaps only by 1920s the extreme political left felt compelled to distance from the term, and the term was subsequently extended to any government or non-government intimidation activity.

Just to point to this brilliant detail from the first link:

"The state department regards attacks against "noncombatant* targets" as terrorism. But follow the asterisk to the small print and you find that "noncombatants" includes both civilians and military personnel who are unarmed or off duty at the time. Several examples are given, such as the 1986 disco bombing in Berlin, which killed two servicemen.

The most lethal bombing in the Middle East last year was the suicide attack on USS Cole in Aden harbour which killed 17 American sailors and injured 39 more.

As the ship was armed and its crew on duty at the time, why is this classified as terrorism? Look again at the small print, which adds: "We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against US bases." "

Perfect. Thanks.

Terrorism is about finding an "in" group. How do you combat this?

My favorite quote about how the internet impacts terrorism:

"If we see terrorism as more of a tribal or gang activity than political activism or warfare, then online connections become especially important to our analysis, otherwise we will be fooled by so-called lone wolves. Earlier ‘lone wolves’ like bombers Timothy McVeigh or Eric Robert Rudolph turn out on closer inspection to have ties, social & otherwise, to like-minded people; McVeigh lived with several other extremists and was taught his bomb-making skills by the Nichols, who also built the final bomb with him, while Rudolph remained on the run for several years in a community that wrote songs and sold t-shirts to praise him and was ultimately caught clean-shaven & wearing new sneakers. Lone wolves who genuinely had no contact with their confreres, such as Ted Kaczynski, are vanishingly rare exceptions among the dozens of thousands of terrorist attacks in the 20th century, and as rare exceptions, otherwise implausible explanations like mental disease account for them without trouble."

There's also Breivik.

Terrorism is as much about media as it is about anything else and by giving these suckers as much airtime as they get the media are more than just a little bit complicit in providing them with a platform for their idiocy.

So stop doing it. That name turns up much more often in English language media that it does here in Norway. Here he was to a quite large extent treated as a common criminal, a murderer.

True. But the typical Norwegian words for he-who-shall-not-be-named may not carry the same connotations in an international context: "the terrorist", "the perpetrator", "the murderer", etc. So it may not be that simple to translate it. Plus, journalists in general aren't the most eloquent and precise of wordsmiths.

No, that's not how it works here. When the event is mentioned in the media it is usually in neutral terms that do not mention the perpetrator. The emphasis is almost always on how we support those who were injured and the families of those who were injured or killed and on how to move on. When the camp at Utøya was formally reopened in the summer the opening speech was about the future not the past.

Terrorism is an American (English word) your barely hear the word in Spanish.

Ostensibly, it's actually a loan word from French, if Wikipedia's etymology is to be believed.

That said, I can certainly attest to the word being commonly used in a host of other languages besides English, including Slavic ones. Perhaps it is the case that it is not frequent in Spanish-speaking societies.

The Online Etymology Dictionary agrees. It dates back to the French Revolution, it seems. [0]

[0] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&searc...

What is interesting is that in the US you have freedom of speech but that doesn't mean you can yell "fire" in a movie theater (as the example often goes).

Otoh you have freedom of the press but there are little restrictions on the press to print anything (obvious exclusions include libel) under the premise that people have a right to know certain things even if that right to know ends up creating more danger. Which is what you mean by "giving these suckers as much airtime". The truth is, why do I need to know that a school in another state in the US had a shooting? Does the information value of that outweigh the obvious effect of having copycat crimes and more damage? To me, it doesn't. And I don't think the issue is really not allowing information like that to be put out. I think the issue is simply playing so long and so hard that it creates the impact that you are referring to. And creates "more suckers".

Let's not spend any more time arguing about the style and cut of the emperor's new clothes. Terrorism constitutes a tiny fraction of the threat to life, health, and property that numerous widely-accepted institutions in Western societies constitute. For some reason, though, it's the only topic that folks in DC find fit for discussion. Could there be a reason for that?

the reason is that the a large portion of policy makers still believe that the american economy runs on a military industrial complex.

The military industrial complex works great when there is an enemy to fight that requires the production of military equipment. examples of this enemy, in the past, were the Axis powers and the USSR during WWII and the cold war. It doesn't work so well when there is no enemy to fight.

after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, there was an "enemy vacuum": who would be the next enemy that the US could use to drive the military industrial complex? Russia wasn't worth fighting indirectly any more because they were too weak, and there really wasn't a competitor that was strong enough or threatening enough for the US to parade around as the enemy.

enter terrorism: it provides a target that fulfills a number of very crucial aspects:

1) non state actors: the US can go to war with terrorists without going to war against the officially recognized government. This is key to global security because conducting war within a nation's borders no longer constitutes an assault on that nation. This prevents WWI type wars that start as a series of cascading mutual protection treaties or similar.

2) difficult to define the enemy: who are terrorists? whoever the ruling party deems terrorists. everyone else is a freedom fighter. This makes it convenient to come up with a new enemy group of terrorists when the current batch has been "defeated" or the american public becomes war weary.

3)easy for the government to drum up support for new military action by creating and appealing to a sense of fear within the populace and a desire for "safety".

4) oil: the majority of terrorist groups that are in the focus of the american public's attention are primarily located within countries that have large oil interests. Other terrorist groups located in other areas, such as the philippines or south america, are largely ignored.

5) percieved threat of terrorists: it is easy to believe that terrorists are a significant threat to US citizens precisely because of their ability to strike on american soil. This greatly adds to their value as a enemy for the military industrial compelex because the general us population sees the threat as legitimate. (a converse example of this would be if the new enemy would have been, say, brazil: they're not really a threat to the US because they wouldn't really be able to directly threaten the american mainland.)

there are other reasons, i'm sure.

It could be much simpler than that. People as a collective massively over-react to spectacle of terrorism in similar ways to how they over-react to the spectacle of airplane crashes (you are far more likely to die each time you drive to the grocery store than from a flight around the world).

Politicians have adopted a "Under my watch: zero tolerance for any risk at any cost! ANY. COST." approach because no one wants to be held responsible for anything slipping through at all. It's not about saving a few hundred lives (vs tens of thousands/year in car crashes). It's about denying responsibility by spending other people's money. It's a redux of "No one ever got fired for buying I.B.M.". This way, when something bad does happen, they can point to the massive over-spending they already did and say "Don't blame me. I did far, far more than was reasonable. What more do you want from me?"

You 5 points are valid, but IMHO they are the grease that gets the rest of the machine to cooperate. I think a 5-why's approach would lead back to the politician's fear of reactionary voters.

We should fund an insurance policy for politicians who aren't reelected because they underestimated a risk. Then they'd feel confident doing much less. It might seem unfair that citizen have to pay for that, but we're the ones paying for the war.

Most politicians aren't interested in money as much as they are in power. The money is nice, but for most there are easier ways to get it.

So what... they get a sizeable payout for underestimating a risk? I don't see how that could backfire.

You might want to think more about what insurance actually is.

I know what insurance is. I just don't know how you can insure against political failure unless you've already got a stash of "political success" to apply when things go wrong.

You say "over-react", but in many ways the reaction is quite rational. When an airplane crashes, hundreds of people die. We are reacting not just to our fear of dying in a crash, but out of sorry of the lives lost and empathy for their families.

Humans also tend to react much more strongly to the malicious actions of others than to the arbitrariness of nature (including human error, as humans are part of nature). Even compared to your ordinary murder, terrorism takes it to the next level, since it indicates that there are others who share the ideology or membership in the terrorist group who intend to cause harm to your society, and they're still out there.

In short, it's not all about "risk". It's about justice. There's little irrational about the desire to live in a just world, and the willingness to pay for it.

The whole thing still doesn't make sense to me. You keep the people in the military industrial complex in labor but you are not generating any wealth for the nation. You collect taxes from people producing real wealth for the country to feed weapons producers and an army only to then throw those expensive bombs into some random dessert village at the other end of the world. Why not use all that money and manpower to build things useful to the nation? So what am I missing? How is war an economical effective way of using those resources? Some would probably say it is the access to oil and other resources but whenever I looked at that it seemed to me that no exceptionally profitable deals or other outcomes were reached.

That's right, it's expensive and ultimately fruitless, but defense spending still grows year by year. Unlike most other industries, the defense industry is totally dependent on government spending in order to make money and therefore considers campaign donations to be an investment.

Notice Hillary's answer this morning to a question about her ties to the military industrial complex (Spoiler--there wasn't one):


>but defense spending still grows year by year.

Not to invalidate your comments, but is that adjusted for inflation? Because not increasing the spending to match inflation is effectively the same as decreasing the amount of [adjusted-for-inflation money] spent.

Argh. I always forget which of nominal and real dollars are adjusted for inflation.

nominal = actual dollar amount real = adjusted for some factor (inflation for example)

Good point about needing to adjust for inflation. I did not consider that. I still believe that Eisenhower's warning about the military industrial complex was prescient.

You don't profit from assets, but from hegemony and all the networks and paths that come as a result.

Well, two things -- a big factory shuttering in someone's home district tends to lead to discontent and possibly being voted out of office, even if something better may be around the corner, and existing relationships tend to be pretty influential to people's thinking (not just in terms of outright cronyism, which is alleged often enough, but also in terms of whose arguments you find persuasive)

the problem is that you are only looking at the surface level, and thats why it doesn't make sense to you. bombing a shitty dessert country doesn't provide any single large benefit, but it does provide many smaller benefits that add up to be worth it (if viewed in a certain light):

the government pays the soldiers/airmen/marines/sailors a wage for their services. Those service members and their families then use that money to purchase other services. This helps bolster the overall american economy.

the government pays contractors to provide all the food/water/clothing/bullets/office equipment/communication equipment/whatever needed to conduct war. This creates jobs, which helps the american economy.

the government contracts flights from airlines to transport troops to and from warzones. this creates more jobs and helps bolster the airline industry.

the government purchased those bombs from a manufacturer using tax dollars: also could be phrased as the government creating jobs in the bomb manufacturing industry. Those people working in the bomb manufacturing industry then go and spend their wages on other things, like food, clothing, apps, computers, etc. That is useful to the nation.

another benefit: intimidating other countries. Don't go to war with america, we'll bomb the shit out of you and you will die. to use a common phrase, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." this is beneficial to the nation.

another benefit: the military gains experience in war, which will be a large benefit if the US ends up going to war against a real country. veteran armies historically have a large advantage against rookie armies.

another benefit: the threat of force (or protection against other forces) can be used to enter into treaties with other states that are not directly involved. Look at NATO: literally a treaty between nations in order to gain protection from America against the Soviets. NATO has provided a large benefit to the nation. Pax Americana is a real thing.

another benefit: technological development. DARPA is a government program that is designed to fund new technologies. Its overall goal is to keep the US military at the technological forefront, but its side effects are greatly beneficial to the populace at large: GPS (a single example among many) is a direct result of DARPA. this provides a huge benefit to the american (and the world's) people.

so yes, you are right that the purchase of that single bomb at whatever cost probably wasn't worth it. but the overall system of purchasing and using bombs and the logistics of delivering those bombs to a warzone and the entire network of individuals that are needed to invent, manufacture, deliver, load, use, and whatever else is needed, is what really benefits the american people.

I disagree with most of your points insofar that there always seems another option to gain similar or even more benefits.

Military and military industry for economic benefits. Just pay them to build highways, bridges or whatever, they will still spend the wages on food, houses and cars. And you can keep the highways and bridges.

Attacking the USA? Geographically almost impossible, no need to intimidate someone.

Veteran army, well maybe, but given all the technological and financial superiority of the US forces compared to their past war opponents the track record doesn't really reflect that as far as I can tell.

Pax Americana, I think is a thing of the past. It may be a bit to early to conclude that humanity left it aggressive youth behind but I think it is pretty unlikely that we will see something like a third world war or even larger international wars, it just isn't worth it.

And finally you can also spend the same amount of money for research without military technology advances as driving force.

> the government pays the soldiers/airmen/marines/sailors a wage for their services. Those service members and their families then use that money to purchase other services. This helps bolster the overall american economy.

> the government pays contractors to provide all the food/water/clothing/bullets/office equipment/communication equipment/whatever needed to conduct war. This creates jobs, which helps the american economy.

> the government contracts flights from airlines to transport troops to and from warzones. this creates more jobs and helps bolster the airline industry.

Couldn't we just instead cut a check to all those people who would have been involved? That would free up their time to go do something productive, and they'd still have the cash in hand to stimulate the economy or whatever. Wouldn't we be even better off? Even in the worse case, where they take the money and do nothing, it would be a wash.

Also both of you and OP mention "dessert countries" but afaik we have no real plans to bomb or invade Switzerland.

>> after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, there was an "enemy vacuum"

While the Soviet Union is no longer, Russia continues strong.

Because national defense is one of the few actual responsibilities of the US Federal government.

National defense also happens to be the most lucrative. No one has ever lost an election by demanding that we throw more money to defense contractors.

No politician will ever come out and say they want to double or triple the defense budget, they usually do it after they get in office.

What usually happens is the candidate talks about reducing the military budget, only to increase it once in office. Obama would be a great example. He was opposed to the multiple wars the US was fighting, then once he got into office, he increased spending on various defense projects:

In Obama’s first year as president, his defense secretary, Robert Gates, ratcheted up spending on the F-35 as a compromise for halting production on the F-22, a larger, more expensive stealth aircraft. But the F-35 has turned out to be nearly as costly and considerably more troubled.

His budget for 2016 looks to increase the military budget:

Intriguingly, while the Pentagon’s “overview” briefing notes that it’s requesting a 4 percent increase in the total defense budget and a 21 percent reduction in the OCO accounts, it doesn’t express the base-budget increase in percentage terms, so let me do the math for you: It translates to an increase of 7.7 percent.

This is enormous.

source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/...

That is an opinion, not a fact.

No, it's the the first paragraph of the US Constitution that the federal government ought to "provide for the common defense".

I don't think anyone is disputing that the government should provide for the common defense; saying it is "one of the few responsibilities of the federal government" implies a certain conservative view and the unstated assumption that the huge security apparatus created to fight terrorism is an effective way of providing for the common defense is also a matter of opinion.

In addition to this, I meant that OP's assertion implied there is a commonly agreed upon list of core responsibilities assigned to the federal government.

Practically all of the major political battles ongoing today in America are to clarify the proper scope and function of government. Healthcare, taxation, voting rights, abortion, religious liberty, on and on and on. It has been going on since the Revolutionary War, and will never reach consensus.

Here's another opinion - The constitution is a starting point, not a recipe book.

The US Constitution is, without dispute, constructed as a whitelist of enumerated powers for the federal government along with a blacklist of prohibited actions that constrain even those enumerated powers.

You can't really understand many constitutional debates without understanding this core formulation of the U.S. Constitution.

Attempts to interpret the whitelist in such a way that it effectively becomes "allow anything" is a good way of understanding the criticisms of expansive federal programs.

Similar attempts to minimize the blacklist portion is a good way of understanding the criticism of expansive police and military programs (i.e. war on drugs, war on terrorism, etc.)

That's not really "without dispute" at all. From the very beginning there was dispute about what things the federal government should do, and the Constitution is open-ended enough to allow quite different interpretations.

You seem to be making a category error. The overall logical structure of the Constitution is something categorically different than the nature of the enumerated powers or of the prohibitions listed in the bill of rights.

My use of "without dispute" is in regard to that overall logical structure and I do believe that the structure is quite clear and does not lend itself to 'quite different interpretations'.

Of course the appropriate interpretation of particular enumerated powers is often debated as well as what the "federal government should do", but that is not what I was referring to with "without dispute".

The Constitution is pretty explicit in stating that it limits the scope of government, which is the opposite of being a starting point.

Politicians are pretty clear in their POV that the Constitution is a bother to be worked around, so there's realistically no point in going down the path you've chosen.

Why wasn't there an equivalent of the 18th Amendment in order to allow the drug prohibition?

Because drugs were already illegal?

You could perhaps argue that they shouldn't have been illegal, constitutionally. But, IIRC, they were, and so new change was required to start the war on drugs. It was just "we're going to get serious about stopping this stuff".

This doesn't really make sense. If that arrangement had made legal sense for opiates, marijuana, etc. it would have made legal sense for alcohol. In fact it was perfectly legal to distribute, purchase, and use those in numerous places through at least 1914, when the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act passed. Even that Act attempted to finesse the issue by limiting imports rather than just outlawing the substances directly. The Volstead Act didn't go in for such half-measures, because it had the backing of the Constitution. Neither Harrison nor any of its successors could say that.

Frankly, I was mostly attempting to engage with mason240's rather strict legal philosophy in a way that would cause most strict constructionists some discomfort.

Perhaps parent was taking issue with "few actual responsibilities", which our current government treats as an opinion.

You ask the right questions. The documentary "Why We Fight"[1] attempts to answer them. It's a fascinating look into the military–industrial complex and its 50-year involvement with US wars.

[1] https://vimeo.com/29896630

I think we need to get better at looking at groups from a natural selection perspective. Any given individual has a finite amount of time to contribute to the social groups they belong to. That means groups are always competing for members. You can think of a group as a single organism competing with other group-organisms in an environment where members are "food".

The group may have overt goals that are not about the group's own survival, but groups that do not devote significant effort to their continued existence—whether deliberately or inadvertently—simply can't compete and die out.

The Shakers[1] are a good example of this. They religion requires celibacy which means the only way the group survives is through adoption and conversion of new members. That makes it very hard for them to compete with other faiths, and the religion is almost totally gone today.

What I find fascinating is that in many groups, survival forces directly oppose the group's own overt goals. The classic example is the NAACP. It's goal is the elimination of racism, but if we ever pull that off, there's no need to have an NAACP anymore either.

From this angle terrorist organizations make a lot more sense. Random terrorist attacks are highly visible and increase the public profile of the group. They make the group appear relatively strong compared to other competing extremist groups.

Being inflexible and dogmatic makes them less effective, but satisfies members who join the group specifically because of its extreme views.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers

> What I find fascinating is that in many groups, survival forces directly oppose the group's own overt goals. The classic example is the NAACP.

Anohter very relevant example are the organizations that are supposed to protect people from terrorists. What happens to them when terrorists stop terrorizing?

The same applies to psychologists. What happens to them if they heal their patients so they don't need the therapy anymore...

That maybe true for psychologists as a group, I don't know.

But for the individual psychologist, it's still better for his patients to do OK so they will tell other potential patients that he is a good psychologist.

The members of terrorist and anti-terrorist organizations don't really get that sort of feedback.

Psychologists (numerically) primarily study the brain; a minority subset of psychologists are clinical, either therapists, or psychiatrists. So your post is inaccurate to refer to all psychologists as a minority subset, but for that minority subset, this is what would happen were they to be successful in treating their patients:

* The patient moves on, spreads positive word of mouth advertising, and frees up time for newer patients that might have a higher demand for the therapist (a new patient is much more likely to have weekly or biweekly sessions than a stable patient that would only need monthly sessions). * The patient stops having an acute problem in their life, but still wants to retain the therapeutic relationship that helped them out of it to address new challenges that arrive in their life. Someone might start going to a therapist because of a major depressive episode, but after that problem is contained, move on to other aspects of their life they find troubling, like social anxiety, or executive functioning, or relationships... * The patient has treated all major and minor deficiencies, but still wishes to use the therapeutic relationship to produce deeper self-fulfilment in their life. A therapist might help someone manage the stress of starting a company, or help explore options for personal growth, or otherwise help their clients achieve self-actualization.

You must have a very narrow and biased view of therapy and psychology to make such a statement. Do you really think there is no value in having someone reflect your feelings and thoughts back to you in an analytical way so that you can identify antipatterns and work on solutions?

Beyond that, humans aren't tools that, once fixed, are performing at capacity until broken again. Humans have limitless capacity for personal growth, limited only by our distractions by other more menial needs. Do you think that it is impossible to help other people personally grow, or that it is impossible to grow at all?

In the past, this might have been the role of the pastor or priest or rabbi or yogi or life coach, but religion is rapidly backsliding away from relevance, and psychologists have the power of science behind them, so they will only get more effective while the other groups are increasingly exposed for the charlatans they are.

(I think your problem might originate by associating psychodynamic practitioners with psychology. Freudianism and its descendents are not part of psychology, since they are ascientific. They're not even debunked like say, phrenology, because they aren't falsifiable. So they're more comparable to the religious or spiritual figures I named above.)

I'd say the SPLC is a better example. There's still a lot of work to be done on racism, but the SPLC has gotten ridiculously expansive in their definition of hate and extremism to justify their desire for perpetual growth as an organization.

In the pre-internet world, the hardest thing for terrorist groups was to propagandize to their local supporters, for fundraising, etc. They used to have to have elaborate networks for distributing audio tapes, video tapes, etc.

These days, with the internet, it's not only easy/affordable to reach the local constituents, but also to reach foreign audiences.

ISIS is the first modern terrorist group, in this sense. Much of its propaganda is designed specifically to intimidate westerners watching from home.

Modern terrorism capitalizes on the free PR that the recipient group provides. Mainstream TV networks have giving ISIS tens of millions of dollars worth of free publicity.

Terrorist groups are "big tent" groups, much like western political parties. Donors may think they are donating for food and infrastructure, but some of that money may go to fund bombings, etc.

The goal of war is to break the will of the enemy. Terrorism is a useful tactic, which is why it is used by the West via drone strikes and fear campaigns.

If you have a small budget, terrorism is a far cheaper way to attempt to break the will of the enemy than conventional warfare, and its successes and failures play out over a longer period of time.

The US, while it doesn't have a small budget, has very little tolerance for aspects of war that appear to the public as messy or gruesome, which is why we choose drone strikes and other low-budget ways to attempt to break the will of our enemies.

Terrorism is not guerrilla warfare, as the article claims, but propaganda warfare. The symbolic strike is everything. The more fear created by strikes, the more effective they are.

"ISIS is the first modern terrorist group"

ISIS is an insurgency movement which attempts to take and hold territory. It uses terror as a weapon, as preliminary intimidation against groups it wants to conquer outright, or exterminate.

That sort of thing goes back to at least the Mongols.

My point was intending to emphasize that ISIS has done a far better job of adapting its approach to modern PR realities than other groups that use terrorism as a tactic.

> terrorist organizations never use terrorism as a last resort and seldom seize opportunities to become productive nonviolent political parties

If you look at Colombia, the Colombian establishment, and US government, have never respected the will of the average Colombian, or Colombia's sovereignty for that matter. Obama's guards going off to sleep with prostitutes (and stiff them at that) is a great symbol for the US/Colombian relationship.

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán looked like he was going to become president of Colombia in 1948, so he was murdered by someone supporting the Colombian establishment. This led over time to a series of events (and US intervention) which caused FARC to arise. In 1984, FARC desired to stop its armed campaign, which had wide support among southern Colombian peasants, and enter politics. This was not something desired by Colombia's establishment or Reagan, and thousands of left-wingers were murdered in Colombia, including all left wing presidential candidates. In 1987, FARC picked up the armed struggle. The Colombian elite and US response to leftists in Colombia entering politics is to murder them. Just like when leftists in Chile were murdered like Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. The Chilean establishment and US answer even elected government's like Allende's with violence and murder.

The mujahideen is another example. Sylvester Stallone dedicated Rambo III to the mujahideen in a movie glorifying them as freedom fighters, as did the US political establishment and almost all of the pundits, outside of maybe The Nation. Now Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and the Taliban are supposed to be awful people, whereas the Taliban used to make friendly visits to the White House. It's complete hypocrisy.

If you strip any situation of context it can be called hypocrisy. 'The U.S. used to war with Japan and were the greatest of enemies... Now the U.S. guarantees their safety! What hypocrisy'. Time is a factor, interests are a factor. U.S. hypocrisy is best highlighted by the propaganda pushing for democratic republics while simultaneously undermining the democratic process. Of course the real aim of the U.S. or any nation that has the power to influence is to back those they find favorable to themselves by whatever means, natural democracy be damned.

Terrorism is a convenient term that has been so over- and mis-used that it means nothing anymore. As far as I understand it was supposed to mean the unofficial use of violence to achieve political aims. Now the establishment uses it for anyone it doesn't like. When I hear it all I can think is that the person using it has an agenda and is trying to mislead me (through the use of propaganda).

The word terrorism now belongs to the "Newspeak".

A guy who infiltrates into an enemy army base in order to kill soldiers from a foreign country cannot be terrorist.

And a country that drops a bomb from a drone into a wedding party because someone suspects that there may be some enemies among the guests, is obviously practicing terrorism.

Money quote:

"the preponderance of evidence is that people participate in terrorist organizations for the social solidarity, not for their political return."

Reminds me a bit of an article from earlier this year [0] which argues that young men who leave Europe to join ISIS do so largely out of a desire to belong to something important.

[0]: http://aeon.co/magazine/culture/the-appeal-of-isis-isnt-so-f...

I get that you can get upvotes just for the (gwern.net), but come on, this is one of his worst.

>There is a commonly-believed “strategic model” of terrorism which we could describe as follows: terrorists are people who are ideologically motivated to pursue specific unvarying political goals; to do so, they join together in long-lasting organizations and after the failure of ordinary political tactics, rationally decide to efficiently & competently engage in violent attacks on (usually) civilian targets to get as much attention as possible and publicity for their movement, and inspire fear & terror in the civilian population, which will pressure its leaders to solve the problem one way or another, providing support for the terrorists’ favored laws and/or their negotiations with involved governments, which then often succeed in gaining many of the original goals, and the organization dissolves.

{{who}}? Come on. Not even a single source on this.

It's easy to burn your enemies if they're straw men.

I agree, it's rather appalling scholarship and it’s disappointing that this is being taken seriously here. A novice writes a paper with no citations, an amateur writes one with practically nothing but them. Any one of the academic articles he links to would shed more light on the topic, on its own, than this essay does in its entirety.

The observation that terrorism is somewhat socially driven is interesting but should be backed by a deeper frame of reference, and one that the authors of those papers surely understood: the larger goals of an organization like Al Qaeda don’t align at all with traditional political demands. The long term strategy involves attacking the US to draw them into open war with a muslim country, spreading the conflict to neighboring regions, mobilizing local resistance to the invaders (as in Afghanistan) and drawing the west into a war of attrition. In this sense they’ve been startlingly successful, and a focus on social capital and “branding”, as opposed to concrete demands of existing governments, is actually quite strategic. Whatever commonality this has with the IRA, the FARC, or even Hezbollah and Hamas is superficial at best.

I think the few times where terrorism had a political agenda, it was not about getting the adhesion of the population through terror. It is more of a provocation, which is meant to provoke a reaction, hoping that the target population will be hostile to that reaction.

Think about IRA. Most of their bombings and assassinations were designed to make the UK install a police state in Northern Ireland, with the intention that the population will become increasingly hostile to the UK in reaction.

Terrorism targeted at american troops in Iraq was following pretty much the same pattern, like Indian terrorism before the independance or the french resistance during ww2.

ISIS is the same thing. They are desperate to grab attention by destroying historic sites and staging horrific executions. I believe their true goal is to provoke a western coalition against them so they can recruit fighters in the muslim world arguing it is a crusade.

That being said, I believe that individual terrorists have historically little real political agenda. Even in wealthy democracies there will always be a bunch of violent thugs who want to kill, blow things up. The ideology is more of a pretext and they might have gone for a criminal career anyway. I don't think there are many differences between the assassins of the Baader Meinhof gang, the home grown al quaeda terrorists, IRA terrorists, or the ZAD militants throwing acid on policemen to protest against the construction of an airport in France.

Fundamentally terrorism is just another category in common crime. Neither new or particularly worse today, and not by any mean the most problematic form of crime by body count. The current hysteria about terrorism not only isn't achieving anything, but in some cases it is actually falling into the terrorists trap. We should react to terrorism like we do to rape, gang violence, drug related crime, etc. Not ignore the problem, be tough enough but not make the problem bigger than it is.

What I want to know is what's the definition of terrorism? That's very important. Let's define terrorism as the use or threat of force for political gain.(a US military definition) Then the biggest terrorist of the last 15 years is the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The 2003 Iraq operation was called "Shock and Awe". That struck me as pretty damn ironic at the time, considering how much the US emphasised that 9/11 was an act of terrorism.

I'll start, terrorism is a violence of any kind.

That's an overly broad and dangerous definition of terrorism.

Following that definition, these acts can be considered terrorism:

- Pub brawl

- Running someone over with a car

- Punching someone who is attacking you

- Police hitting protestors

The term is simply used to name "the others" while inducing the emotional response among "our" population. The terrorists are always those who are against "us" and "we" can never do the "terrorism" even when "we" do "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature...through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear."

The religions would call these "others" "the unbelievers," of course. Even though everybody in the world doesn't believe in most of the gods of the world. The "terrorists" is used as something like "the evil others."

A case study: The start of the WWII (in Europe) with Germany attacking Poland:


"The invasion was referred to by Germany as the 1939 Defensive War since Hitler proclaimed that Poland had attacked Germany and that "Germans in Poland are persecuted with a bloody terror and are driven from their homes. The series of border violations, which are unbearable to a great power, prove that the Poles no longer are willing to respect the German frontier.""

It's always "them."

Even as internationally "agreed":


"Although the longest, the United Nations' definition is arguably the broadest and mostly serves to individualize the act, which, like the State Department, disregards nations as possible agents of terrorism. At the time the declaration was registered in April 2002, 132 of the 180 parties had signed the resolution. What is most interesting about the United Nations Declaration made by the General Assembly, is not necessarily the definition itself, but the 'declarations', 'reservations', 'understandings', and subsequent 'objections' made by the parties (See Appendix). Take notice how Yemen did not sign the declaration on the basis that, as a nation, it did not want to relay the impression that it was recognizing Israel's existence. Many of the countries signed the declaration, but not before declaring that it did not apply to them because they were unbound for one reason or another."

"United States signed with the following reservation: "(a) pursuant to Article 24 (2) of the Convention, the United States of America declares that it does not consider itself bound by Article 24 (1) of the Convention; and

(b) the United States of America reserves the right specifically to agree in a particular case to follow the arbitration procedure set forth in Article 24 (1) of the Convention or any other procedure for arbitration."


"(1) EXCLUSION OF LEGITIMATE ACTIVITIES AGAINST LAWFUL TARGETS. The United States of America understands that nothing in the Convention precludes any State Party to the Convention from conducting any legitimate activity against any lawful target in accordance with the law of armed conflict.

(2) MEANING OF THE TERM 'ARMED CONFLICT'. The United States of America understands that the term 'armed conflict' in Article 2 (1) (b) of the Convention does not include internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence, and other acts of a similar nature."

With regard to the declaration made by the Jordan upon ratification:

"The Government of the United States of America, after careful review, considers the statement made by Jordan relating to paragraph 1 (b) of Article 2 of the Convention (the Declaration) to be a reservation that seeks to limit the scope of the offense set forth in the Convention on a unilateral basis. The Declaration is contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention, namely, the suppression of the financing of terrorist acts, irrespective of where they take place or who carries them out.""

One of my college professors wrote a really interesting book on exactly this topic:


Highly recommend it.

Terrorism is an agenda sought through terror. Nobody ever claimed terrorism was rational or effective. It's just the physical implementation of hate speech.

I think The Westboro Baptist Church is a great example of a terrorist organization. Sure, they haven't blown up anyone with a pipe bomb like other extremist christian terror groups, but you can see in their bumbling intimidation tactics how they're just acting violently in hopes that they get what they want (in this case mainly violent speech and intimidation through picketing). If anything they're more focused on inflicting pain than successfully achieving their objective.

In this sense, terrorism is about terror.

>>Statistical analysis of terrorist groups’ longevity, aims, methods and successes reveal that groups are self-contradictory and self-sabotaging, generally ineffective;

"Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction." (A cookie to anyone who knows where that is from.)

Karl Marx. Karl Marx wrote that Capitalism carries within it the seeds of its own destruction, that capitalists would sell you the noose with which you could hang them.

Maybe that's where it started, but the exact quote is from a totally different place. Think deserts and religious extremism.

Karl Marx from House Atreides, then.

Come on, your username was enough... b^)

I don't like cookies. How about a spice cake?

Terrorism as delivered by the media in the current time is Islamic related violence.

I may not fully agree with each and every point, but I always appreciate the research and meticulousness gwern brings to the table.

I don't. This article is clueless. The truth has not been triangulated here.

Sometimes one needs to pull one's backside out of academic citations and speak to people, at the moment Syrian people are pretty handy for informing one's own perspective on things. I am fortunate in that I know regular Syrian people that do professional jobs, raise kids, play football and have plenty of family back home.

Normal people that happen to have moved out before the rest from Syria don't have some crazy viewpoint, but you have to talk to them. They may not know the truth either but they can provide a point of reference not provided by the media or 'well meaning' articles written by people that either know nothing or have an axe to grind.

This would be more persuasive if you told us what your prescient Syrian acquaintances think, and how that contradicts TFA.

Terrorism is show business.

So I suppose terrorists are like goths.

There is comparatively strong theoretical and empirical evidence that people become terrorists not to achieve their organization’s declare political agenda, but to develop strong affective ties with other terrorist members. In other words, the preponderance of evidence is that people participate in terrorist organizations for the social solidarity, not for their political return.

Well this is probably true for any organization, and for culture in general.

Precisely. This point seems to evade the author at every turn. Terrorist organizations are organizations first.

That's true, but these groups offer a lot more than your average highschool club. It's a social structure and a livelihood.

you could say the same thing about the US military though, couldn't you?

Most people work for companies for reasons which have nothing to do with "social solidarity", so no, it's not true of any organization.

I've always questioned the logic of mass murdering innocent civilians to get them to vote their current leader out.


"After the official end of the civil war in 1996, Taylor ran for president in the 1997 general election. He famously campaigned on the slogan "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him."[22] The elections were overseen by the United Nations' peacekeeping mission, United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia, along with a contingent from the Economic Community of West African States.[23] Taylor won the election in a landslide, garnering 75 percent of the vote. Although the election was widely reckoned as free and fair by international observers, Taylor had a huge advantage going into the election. He'd already taken over the former state radio station, which referred to him as "His Excellency." Additionally, there was widespread fear that Taylor would resume the war if he lost."


"Escobar was allegedly responsible for the 1989 murder of Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, one of three assassinated candidates who were all competing in the same election, as well as the bombing of Avianca Flight 203 and the DAS Building bombing in Bogotá in 1989. "


"After declaring an end to a series of previous violent acts meant to pressure authorities and public opinion, Escobar surrendered to Colombian authorities in 1991. He was confined in what became his own luxurious private prison, La Catedral. Before Escobar gave himself up, the extradition of Colombian citizens had been prohibited by the newly approved Colombian Constitution of 1991. That was controversial, as it was suspected that Escobar or other drug lords had influenced members of the Constituent Assembly."

What you describe about Escobar is pretty much exactly the period of history covered by Amazon's original series "Narcos".

"He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past." [0] -- George Orwell, 1984

"History is written by the victors." [1] -- Napolean

[0] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6145-he-who-controls-the-pas...

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/210910.Napol_on_Bona...

Please distrust goodreads as an authoritative source for quotes. If you search you'll also find that "History is written by the victors" is also attributed to Churchill and to Hitler. My experience is that quotes to famous people, without any citation, are almost always misattributed.

For what it's worth, the oldest Google Book search for 'history is written by the victors' is from the 1970 "Willard W. Waller on the Family, Education, and War", p148, in a section dated "previous unpublished." A search for 'history is written by the winners' finds this summary of the history of the quote, https://books.google.com/books?id=d6JZryGvfxYC&pg=PA90&dq=%2... and concludes there is no clear origin.

And google books is authoritative? Napoleon was oldest the attribution I could find. I actually believe the quote is far older the 1970, maybe homer or some other writer from antiquity describing Alexander the Great. Maybe Plutarch. Grammatically, it's probably not identical to the modern English version, especially if it were translated from the original Greek or possibly Latin.

Dalke didn't claim that Google Books is authoritative. He's right that nearly all attributions of famous quotes to famous people turn out bogus—the real sources are usually obscure and often interesting. They're also often more recent than you'd think. Who knows if that 1970 find is the origin of this one (probably not), but it's exactly the sort of thing that could be.

A great resource for these is the Quote Investigator, an anonymous researcher who has slowly been building up an impressive portfolio of all the well-known catchy quotes. Here's a great recent example: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/08/28/fish/. He or she takes requests, so I asked him or her to put "history is written by the victors" on his or her todo list.

As a minor observation, the researcher goes by the pseudonym 'Garson O’Toole' and uses the gendered pronoun 'he' when referring to the pseudonym, as seen at http://quoteinvestigator.com/about/ :

> What is Dr O’Toole’s background? Garson O’Toole has a doctorate from Yale University, and exploring quotations is one of his avocations.

(The Yale law librarian Fred R. Shapiro and editor of the Yale Book of Quotations further goes on to say the person is "PhD'86" from Yale http://yalealumnimagazine.com/articles/3838 . However, if Shapiro is part of a Tlön-like conspiracy, then this would be exactly how to create a new Bourbaki.)

Also, if https://books.google.com/books?id=QZ0eAQAAMAAJ&q=history+is+... is correct about the date, The New Yorker, Volume 42, Part 4 (1966) leads with the line "Much of the world's history is written by history's winner".

Dang's comment clarified my intent. I want now to address "Napoleon was oldest the attribution I could find."

There are two aspects to "oldest attribution"; one is to when the attribution was made, and the other is the era that the attributed person lived. They should not be confused.

If I say that Socrates said "a broken clock is right twice a day", then this is a recent attribution to someone who lived a long time ago. If others then follow my lead, then there will be a lot of modern citations to someone who lived thousands of years ago. That doesn't mean it would be correct.

This means one can't simply order the list of attributed people and pick the person who lived first. That might be a false attribution. For example, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1251690... describes some of the quotes falsely attributed to Lincoln, and http://shannonselin.com/2014/07/10-things-napoleon-never-sai... lists quotes attributed to Napoleon, but which he either did not say or did not originate.

One way to help identify misattributed quotes is to look in the historical record. Sometimes people 50 years ago quoted unknown person X as the source of a quote, where people now quote older and more famous person Y.

Because of the tendency to attach quotes to a more famous person, this would suggest - though surely not prove - that the attribution to Y is incorrect.

In the early 1970s you can see many people name diverse sources to the quote, including Haley, author of "Roots". As Napoleon's writing are well-known and studied, the lack of a citation during that to Napoleon is a strong indicator that he did not make the quote in any citeable fashion.

(Eg, the shannonselin.com link points out Napoleon may have said 'Not tonight, Josephine'; we just don't have citeable evidence for it.)

> One way to help identify misattributed quotes is to look in the historical record. Sometimes people 50 years ago quoted unknown person X as the source of a quote, where people now quote older and more famous person Y.

> Because of the tendency to attach quotes to a more famous person, this would suggest - though surely not prove - that the attribution to Y is incorrect.

dalke, you just agreed with my original point in citing those quotes after getting tangled in the weeds of citation & attribution. History or the historical record is often inaccurate; often (re)written by those who control such things at the time of (re)writing.

Though, I must say, your distrust of historical record doesn't seem to lead you to the next, and for me, more important question than accuracy of attribution & citation: Why?

Your original point is completely independent of who might have said it before you did. I was therefore not making a comment about that point. Rather, I was cautioning you that in my experience your citation source is often incorrect.

Your original point is also simply untrue. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest is perhaps the most famous case where those defeated - the Romans - are also the ones who wrote the history. They fully acknowledged that they were thoroughly defeated. We have no German account of their victory.

You seem to suggest a parallelism between my observation (that quotes are often re-attributed to a more famous name, even when there is no record of them having said it) and the meaning behind the aphorisms you repeated. I believe that is similar to Orwell's point, yes, though we do have other methods, including archaeology, to help establish the history. However, Orwell's point is more a deliberate decision, like the falsification of history practiced by the Soviet Union. Comparing that to lazy scholarship is rather trite, don't you think?

I don't understand your question "Why?". Why do people prefer to cite famous people instead of leaving it "anonymous" or "unknown"? I don't know. Why do you personally want to distort history? Again, I can't answer that question. Does it make you feel like you are more of a victor? Do I get to defeat you by changing your words?

My deliberately snippy remarks now are really rather trite compared to, say, moving Trotsky from Soviet photograph. I don't really think it makes sense to compare the two.

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