Pondering the cultural dynamics of social media

11 Aug

ETEC 642 Week 4

I seem to have anticipated Rheingold’s fourth chapter, with its opening emphasis on the human propensity for cooperation. I am convinced about the value of the social brain hypothesis and expect that we will see a continued limit of around 150 direct contacts regardless of how many “friends” one might have on FB. Within the hundreds or thousands on a friend list, I suspect the closer interactions will remain limited to that group size because it is just how we are hard-wired. Cultural evolution has to some degree outstripped our neurolgic capacity.

Humans are notoriously bad at thinking on very big scales, as is illustrated in the “tragedy of the commons” (Kramer & Brewer, 1984) and in denial of effects of carbon fuels as we race to burn up global reserves. Ostrom’s superb enumeration of factors needed for successful “institutions of collective action” become too abstract to achieve buy-in when the average person must imagine cooperation with people on the other side of the globe, even if that average person is running a country. We inexorably think in terms of in-group and out-group, even when the group is made up by researchers in a lab using the most meaningless criteria they can dream up, as Marilyn Brewer has demonstrated for decades (Brewer, 1979, etc.). We align best with villages and clans, though we are capable of identification with super-ordinate groups such as national, ethnic, or religious groups (Kramer & Brewer, 2006). Unfortunately, this is most effectively done in contrast to an opposing group and not in unifying the human race for cooperative efforts.

The section on crowdsourcing gives a certain amount of hope, though Rheingold’s summary of Sharma’s elements of successful crowdsourcing begin with buy-in and include identification with the superordinate project group to stimulate a sense of self-interest .

            Sharma’s elements

  • Vision & strategy
  • Human capital
  • Infrastructure
  • Linkages & trust
  • External environment
  • Motive alignment of the crowd


In the long run, commons based production will be a challenge for prevailing social psychological thought. That thought, however, is based on a predominance of Western researchers located in the US, using American college students as participants, most of whom are raised in a highly individualistic culture. The Web democratizes intercultural contact beyond any single region or culture, perhaps providing a counter to the alarming focus on individual gain characteristic of American culture and business.



Brewer, M. B. (1979). In-group bias in the minimal intergroup situation: A cognitive-motivational analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 86(2), 307-324. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.86.2.307

Brewer, M. B. (1996). When contact is not enough: Social identity and intergroup cooperation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 20(3-4), 291-303. doi:10.1016/0147-1767(96)00020-X

Kramer, R. M., & Brewer, M. B. (1984). Effects of group identity on resource use in a simulated commons dilemma. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(5), 1044-1057. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.46.5.1044


Final project, stage 1

29 Jul

Final project, stage 1.

The birds-eye lowdown on the good, the bad, and the ugly of online pedagogy. “Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you” (Wonka, 1971).

14 Jul

A post for my first class assignment in several years:

This first week already challenged me to examine my attitudes and beliefs about certain tools and how I use technology in my teaching. My teaching is almost entirely online these days, but I resist stepping outside of the learning systems of my universities (HPU- Blackboard & UH-Laulima) for a number of reasons. Notably, I am nervous about exposing student information and violating FERPA, but I could also relate to several issues of personal boundaries discussed this week. My thoughts for the week follow, adapted for blog. I do portray myself in this blog, but my name has been changed to protect the innocent.

The ugly:

The main thing that holds me back from using Facebook is that I need a life outside of teaching. I really do not want my students having access to my friends and family, and the lines blur every time privacy settings change. I have had people I blocked show up again, so I have serious doubts that barriers cannot be crossed on any platform, especially ones that regularly monitor activity for profit.

I am a psychologist, and I can assure you that 3% of your students will develop a psychotic disorder during their lives (I suspect the number may be higher among administrators), with about 1/3 of those eventually being fully schizophrenic, hopefully not while in your classroom. At any time, 12% will be depressed, etc. What frightened me, looking up these stats, is that 5.9% will develop something called Borderline Personality Disorder, sooner or later, in which they glom onto particular people like an emotionally challenged lamprey. The film Fatal Attraction (1987) was Hollywood’s version of that. I have an ex-wife who came close.

A goodly number of my instructor friends have a story about some whackadoodle student who made their lives miserable for some amount of time, from stalker sex-offenders to extreme classroom disruptors threatening students and teachers with physical violence or extended, tangential tirades (I am not sure which is worse). If you wondered, they all have internet access, too, especially the ones where you wish they needed a background check to get online. I want to be able to go home from work and not have them follow me.

The bad:

Those points having been raised, and despite a host of reasons why not, I see the educational tide going toward widespread use of FB and other social networks, and towards massive expansion of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) as the norm for online education. “Resistance,” as The Borg would say, “is futile.” Despite Snowden’s elimination of any illusion that sweeping government surveillance is not a fact and is just a delusion of our psychotic 3%, we are mid-leap from that cliff like lemmings into the churning sea. We now know for sure that any private electronic communication with a student is an open book and, yes, you violated FERPA already somewhere. Keeping it within university firewalls at least gives us plausible deniability.

The slightly worse part is that admin is infatuated with MOOC’s, taught by superstars at MIT and Stanford and robo-graded, because admin has not yet figured out that the “Open” part means there is no resulting institutional income and they will also lose their jobs. Much as automation and outsourcing has killed manufacturing jobs, higher-ed is on borrowed time as an employment option. Well, if you want income to pay for food. I actually aspire to gear the text I am writing toward MOOC usage (feel The Dark Side pulling within you…). It is like academic Stockholm Syndrome. (Note: psychological studies say Stockholm Syndrome is not empirically supportable)

The good:

All hope is not lost. Best evidence says a really bored Disney (1958) film crew had little Inuit kids gather up lemmings during a horribly boring stint filming in the Arctic, and made up a fictional, fatal migration so they would not return with 0 interesting film moments (http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.asp). My crap filter is stuck on high 🙂

As Rheingold (2012) says, nothing is set in stone. Yet.

If Gutenberg perfected the printing press in 1450, even accounting for the acceleration of cultural change (see Shirov and Gordon, 2013), we are probably only shortly past Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in 1517, counting from the dawn of The Net. The equivalent revelatory power of Darwin’s (1859) Origin of species may not happen for a decade or so. What happened as a result of Gutenberg has been a phenomenal expansion of knowledge, unfortunately a lot of it about refinement of ways to kill all life on the planet (I rarely compose any music all in a major key). Amazingly, it took less than two minutes to find and correct my desired Willy Wonka quote above, so all important knowledge is immediately available, hurray! Well, except perhaps knowledge about how to be happy and how to work toward a sustainable future as a species. Our ratings on those measures are slipping.

But expand knowledge the printing press did, and still accelerating in development we are in this age of digital publication across the globe (go grammatically correct Yoda!). If we can save ourselves and the planet, it will probably be as a result of our coming together digitally on a planetary level, because boundaries are becoming meaningless, and everywhere but Texas and the Sudan, young people are likely to find shared identity on a global level.

(Note: this new dissemination of media info is also pushing adolescent rebellion and hyper-sexuality of youth into the faces of very conservative cultures every day, which may be a little more troubling to them than “our freedoms.”)

The birds-eye lowdown:

As educators, we still have a few moments to shift the trajectory of this mammoth vessel on which we travel. A fraction of a degree difference in direction can result in a remarkably unexpected destination in only a few million miles. Considering that we in Hawaii are spinning at about 970 mph and orbiting the sun at 66,660 mph, the proverbial butterfly’s flap in education today may be the difference between heaven and a living heck for our descendants.

The assignment questions:

I really, sincerely apologize that my thoughts were not easily fit into format of these questions, but I will address them individually to assure thoroughness. I think most elements are covered above, but I just got peer-reviews back on something last night, and I accept that I do not always make explanations clear and explicit to a degree where all humans understand.

  • What new technology and concepts did I learn this week?
    • I am really enjoying this, so please do not misinterpret me.
    • I immediately set up an account on Twitter, and I still loath it. I already had the other accounts and use those services
    • The concepts are not new, but they have been refined to an incredible degree in just 1 week
  • What excited me about the week’s activities? Why?
    • Most exciting is the opportunity to explore ideas I have resisted.
    • Why? I really prefer not to fossilize while I still breath, and it is getting close.
  • Which of the week’s activities helped me to understand emerging technologies better? Why?
    • Just picking the platforms to compare for the group assignment stretched my awareness and thinking nicely.
  • Which of the week’s activities was least useful to me? Why?
    • No activity was not useful.
    • I say this because they all made me think in new ways.
  • How can the week’s activities be strengthened?
    • On a very minor note, please do not force me to devalue any activity, as is required to answer the previous question affirmatively.
  • What new insights and problem solving strategies did I realize during discussions or while working with others?
    • I think this will play out over a long time, yet to come.
    • In this first week, I am more aware of problems raised regarding privacy and protection of the young.
    • This week has forced me to face the fact that I must figure out how to connect my teaching to the social tools in my daily life- the ordering of elements in that question are a direct result of this week’s discussions.
  • What would I like to learn more about? Why?
    • There are two topics about which I feel a need to learn, the first of which is about ways to use commonly accessible tools to facilitate learning amongst my students.
      • Obviously, I need to do this to keep my students engaged and to keep my course relevant to their lives.
    • The second big thing is to know clearly what the legal ramifications of using social media in my courses might be, and that is because I do not want to be sued.

A suggestion would be to have a designated place to correspond with other students at low-stakes. We have no location to just bond without penalty or reward, and hence have less chance of creating a community for social support.  This can be as simple as an unmonitored student chat room.

Pondering autism across cultures

6 Jul

I was invited to comment on a discussion, and it requires some pondering:

Cultural relativity in the diagnostics of autism?

Do you think it is possible that the “scientific” definition of autism might be dependent, secretly and unwillingly, of the narrow values on contemporary Western societies, and consequently, that its diagnostic could be erroneous, and its therapy harmful in the context of Asian (and Slavic) societies, or communities?

There are a few questions within this one, I think, and the issue has probably been further clouded by the release of the DSM-5, with all autism symptoms lumped together and conjoined with the former Asperger’s Disorder, now gone the way of the dinosaurs. We will return to that shortly.

I have long suspected that “autism” was already a confluence of several disorders, and Walter Kauffman, on the board that redefined autism for the DSM-5, acknowledges the likelihood of multiple etiologies from both genetic and environmental sources. My adviser for my Master’s was Anthony Marsella. He taught me psychopathology, and he cut his cultural chops collecting data for the WHO 25 year schizophrenia study. He maintained that schizophrenia was also a lumping together of what may be several disorders with diverse etiologies, and that the “disease” could not be solved until they could be distinguished. An additional tidbit from that vast study: schizophrenia is a downward spiral in the West, but  has occasional “cures” in less developed cultures. Likewise, with autism, a clear solution may require clear understanding of etiology to arrive at treatment. We will return to that as well.

To return to the questions asked, yes, of course the diagnosis is absolutely a product of Western culture, as is the system of positivistic science and the APA itself. Yes, diagnosis per APA criteria is dependent on norms of behavior established by measurement in Europe and its descendants, reflecting the underlying values of those cultures. Could diagnosis be erroneous? Probably sometimes, but by casting a broad net, many conditions will correctly fit, which has both good and bad repercussions.

Diagnosis of ASD’s in the US has risen to about one in nine children, which brings up the question of whether more cases are happening, or are we just more sensitive? The answer is probably both, but this brings us to the good side of the wide net of a single spectrum: diseases are studied when enough people care and make noise about them. Currently, schools in the US provide little support for autistic children, which I know from the shabby treatment my autistic grandson has gotten. I had several adult Asperger’s friends in New Zealand who got little help there, so I suspect this is the common status in Western cultures.

As to treatment, I think the bigger issue is lack of treatment. The treatment that I have encountered is usually Applied Behavioral Therapy, and it seems to be effective. It is also labor intensive and expensive, so school systems would rather litigate than provide it. This places autistic children in classrooms with children who have completely unrelated conditions and inadequate or inappropriate educational plans. The result is that they do not improve or actually regress. I have seen it happen.

To understand whether there are other or better treatments in different cultures would require understanding equivalent cultural conceptualizations matching ASD. The Western disorder is now recognized in a variety of cultures including India, Japan, and Korea, to name a few, but this is not the same as establishing the presence or lack of an equivalent understanding before the imporition of the Western model.  I suspect that, as with schizophrenia, more collectivist lifestyles may help, but stigma applied to mental disorders may make things worse. I am reminded of the way Zinacantec infants are held constantly for their first few months (see Greenfield & Maynard), and I wonder if this constant contact might ameliorate effects. On the negative side, Asian has not typically been associated with treatment of mental issues—that stuff is not acknowledged at all outside the home, and barely inside.

So bottom line, I think there is no answer yet, but this is a great area for future research.

Comments welcome

Manzarek: In memorium

24 May

In January, I interviewed Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers by phone prior to their Hawaii shows of the Manzarek-Rogers band. They gave no clue that Ray was anything but healthy, and even at their Iao Theater show, he seemed in fine form. I definitely would have gone backstage to meet him, had I known, but such is life, and such is my shy nature, that I declined an opportunity. Manzarek’s classically influenced arpeggiations are definitely an influence in my playing, subtly, mostly by showing me how classical and rock can interact, but that is huge! Without Manzarek, I think Baroque Rock would not have happened, and that was a huge part of my teens. And I would not have played a sizzling, dark version of LA Woman with my Kauai band Open Mind in the late 80’s– that rocked. Rock would have suffered, had he not been, and it will be a little less without his quirky, sardonic, highly abstract sensibilities.

The article that ran in the Honolulu Weekly was edited in a ghastly way, with a quote from Manzarek actually changed (really?). That editor is gone, and I liked him mostly, but you just do not edit words of an icon. So here is the article I intended, sort of. I spent many hours distilling down the marvelous time I did spend– Ray was late, and really he wanted to watch a football game, so it was what it was– to the following. And by this version, I was adapting to the editorial requests.

Oh crap! I just realized– he made a number of bawdy and LSD connected references I knew would not run. He challenged me to print them, saying, I bet you won’t print that, it’s a family paper… This will be updated to include those next few days.

Here is the draft:

Manzarek & Rogers

“Your first question: how’d you guys get together, is that on your agenda? I’ve got all the questions,” Ray Manzarek predicts when he gets on the phone.

So begins an interview with Manzarek-Rogers, the musical love-child of The Doors’ Manzarek and blues guitarist Roy Rogers, both legends in their genres.

Rogers’ parents named him for the singing cowboy, foretelling an inevitable musical career.  He spent years on the road with Johnny Lee Hooker’s band, with his own Delta Rhythm Kings, and producing Hooker, Norton Buffalo, and others. He has earned a collection of Grammy nominations and awards for his playing and producing efforts along the way.

Manzarek is the elephant in the room, having met a guy named Jim Morrison in film school and forming a little group called The Doors after they graduated. Morrison provided poetry and presence, but it was Manzarek’s musical skills playing keys and left-hand bass that shaped the group’s sound. The electric pianos and combo organs he played then and now provide a particular sonic palette, but his way of playing keys and writing music is the watermark identifying both groups.

Manzarek-Rogers’ second album, Translucent Blues, seems like a retro-cool Doors derivative, until one realizes it is the genuine instrumental core of The Doors laying the bedrock for Rogers’ soaring, soulful slide guitar.

Manzarek borders on snidely cynical, but he has actually been interviewed enough to nail the first question about how Manzarek-Rogers came to be.

Manzarak explains: “We share the same agent. He said, ‘hey, you’re a blues guy Ray,’ and I said, ‘Yes I am, from the south side of Chicago.’  ‘Why don’t you get together with Roy–’ I said, ‘Sure.’”

Following Morrison’s untimely demise, Manzarek produced bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and seminal punkers X, but his bread and butter is solo shows where he plays keys and tells stories about The Doors, at places like Northern California’s The Raven, where Rogers stopped by to sit in and check their musical fit.

“We played a little blues, and a little Miles Davis, something from Sketches of Spain, and then we played a little Eric Satie,” Manzarek reflects, “And it worked great, so I said –-“

Rogers chimes in, “Simpatico!”

Manzarek echoes, “Simpatico!”

The varied styles of their first jam presaged the musical range of Manzarek-Rogers. Fives and Ones is Rogers’ hard driving Delta blues, until it shifts into a delicate Satie-esque reverie from Manzarek. In Blues in my Shoes, Manzarek arpeggiates down Riders on the Storm style from bridge to the final verse. As you Leave is a sweet ballad blending classical and jazz elements from keys, sax, and guitar.

The lyrics for the album came from a stellar array of poets who had, over the years, given Manzarek a literal pile of literary musings: wordsmiths like Jim Carrol, Michael McClure, and Warren Zevon.

“It’s like women, we have binders of poets,” Manzarek quips. “Roy and I made music to some of these poems that I had from various poetry buddies. And that was the process– we wanted to make songs that were a bit more advanced– we’re making 21st Century blues with interesting lyrics.”

Translucent Blues straddles an era of shifting musical styles, but also a colossal transformation in the music industry ecosystem.

“I was at a news stand a few years ago,” Manzarek relates, “and these three young guys came up, ‘You’re Ray Manzarek from The Doors, right? We just downloaded Riders on the Storm— awesome!’ I said, ‘great, you want to give me a dollar?’ Because that’s what I’d get if they buy the album.”

Manzarek declined the buck they proffered, but the tens or hundreds of thousands spent recording in a studio are no longer likely to be recouped.

“It had never entered their minds that here I was, the artist, and it might be good if I got something for my work,” Manzarek muses.

Rogers interjects, “The recording has become a calling card for the live performance. That’s where people are making their money is at the live shows, and the recordings just attract people to those.”

To make it work, Manzarek-Rogers travels light, with little gear and no sax player. Translucent Blues on tour has Kevin Hayes from Robert Cray’s band on drums, and Steve Evans on bass from Elvin Bishop.

“We improvise psychically with each other,” Manzarek proffers. “Here’s how it works: we go into a Vulcan-like mind meld, so that we’re all playing the same song, and that works out really well, the rhythm, the chord changes, the passion, the excitement—We try to bring as much passion as we can to each song, and in that passion you lose yourself.”

“I tell people always, it should be better live” Rogers says, more practically.  “You use the record as a place to start, and then the thing evolves. It’s living, breathing stuff.”

“Vibration, music is a pure vibration,” he says.  “Roy plucks a string on his guitar and vibrations come out. We find those vibrations most pleasing. That’s what musicians do, they create vibrations that feel really good. And when you all hit the same vibration at the same time, wow. It’s like an orgasm. You don’t ejaculate, but– you vibrate at the same speed, level intensity, and—it’s thrilling!”

It is hard to tell when Manzarek is serious, but on this point he is sincere. They are mammoth creatures born of a passing age, but they have adapted. Manzarek-Rogers is no sedate museum piece; they pump out a vital, balls-to-the-walls groove rooted in the origins of rock and well suited for the future.

Thoughts on terrorism, in context of the Boston Marathon (slight revision)

22 Apr

Yesterday the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, in the midst of the city’s beloved Patriots Day. Today marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. penned his immortal “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” At this moment, there is no news about who set off the bombs, whether an Islamist terrorist or the home-grown anti-government or White Supremist variety. All of these have committed violent acts, and all are reacting to what they perceive to be outrageous threats to their righteous way of being. We have deep cultural rifts and intolerances that allow us to ignore the humanity of those who don’t think or look like us and commit these horrific acts against them. Terrorism is the strategic use of violence to instill fear in the general population in order to promote a particular agenda or goal (Bandura, 2004; Bassiouni, 1981). Terrorism is difficult to understand and emotionally confusing to discuss. The ideas that follow are collected from current research about the situational and psychological factors that allow and encourage terrorism, along with some thoughts about how we can reduce the chances of terrorism in the future.

We have flourished as a species because we have learned to think very well and to pass these thoughts to others. We have developed understandings of how to survive in diverse natural environments, and different ways to live in and navigate social contexts. These structures and systems of knowing are supremely important; they allowed us to live on and multiply, and we pass this precious knowledge to our children with great certainty that our way is the best and most certain way of living. We cling to these ways of understanding the world as though our lives depend on them, because historically and genetically, they do.

As we have moved around the world and taken different cultural paths, we usually did so gradually over centuries, and meeting someone culturally different was extremely rare. We told stories to our children that went back generations that told who we were and how to be, and these only included strangers as cautionary tales. Now, in a matter of hours, we can be face to face with someone across the globe and highly unlike us in thoughts and behaviors. We are largely unprepared, psychologically or culturally, to accommodate these sudden conjunctions of difference, which Moghaddam (2006) likens to cataclysmic evolutionary events in which a population of some life-form sudden declines and/or disappears. In the processes of colonization and globalization, entire cultures have been wiped out or subsumed, and very real threats still exist in the form of wars, occupations, and genocide. Threats to survival of our traditional ways of being enter our homes daily via media that promotes particular world-views that drive revenue in commercial media. Cultures are going extinct, and like any creature, they fight for collective survival.

Mahoney and Galis (2006) disagree with Moghaddam, saying that we are already in complete global contact, and cultures have been changing for eons, with new cultural elements and processes emerging to take the place of the ones that are lost. This idea ignores how important our cultural resources are to us and how tightly we cling to our ways of being, and ultimately, how much we interweave our individual and cultural identities; if you threaten my culture, you threaten my existence and the survival of my offspring, because my culture is how those genes survived to live as me. The idea of resisting cultural cataclysm, construed in this essential way, brings together all of the various terrorist possibilities, whether domestic or foreign.

All of these terrorist narratives are just that: narrative stories we tell ourselves and others to explain the world. The narratives of terrorism normally begin with perceived grievance. The grievance may be against the person, their family, the culture, or the earth, but in that person’s mind, they are aggrieved and must act to maintain their sense that the world is just and that their way of being can persevere. The white supremist clings to his perceived cultural superiority in the face of changing demographics where non-Caucasians gain power. The gun toting Second Amendment freedom fighter identifies existentially with gun ownership and lack of governmental interference in his life as crucial elements of survival, and without these he is diminished. Both Irish and Tamil terrorists resisted occupation by another culture, the English and the Aryan Indians, respectively, until very recently. The Islamist believes he must resist the morally degenerate Western culture, perhaps because it defiles Saudi Arabia with its military bases and Palestine with its support of Israel, because their country has been invaded and their government overthrown, or simply because that culture is morally repugnant to them and must be eliminated.

These ideas are not mentioned to excuse terrorism, but simply to bring crucial insight. There is no justification for violence against innocents. Marsella (2004) begins his reflections on terrorism quoting Dostoevsky, “While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing is harder than to understand him” (p.11). To think about a horrific act with loss of innocent lives is in itself horrific, and we understandably turn away from the scenes, assuring ourselves that the terrorist is a deeply flawed and sick creature. The fact is that such events do occur, and for a variety of reasons that may include mental illness, but often cultural, political, or ideological issues are central in the discourse causing and surrounding events. If we do not understand, we may not respond in a way that reduces risk, and may instead increase our vulnerability by increasing the behaviors that began the cycle of violence. We certainly increase risk by stereotyping terrorists as non-European, when in fact most terrorist acts in the US are committed by white Americans (See Table _). By understanding and identifying the root causes of terrorism, we gain certainty about the best course of response.

Table _: White American terrorists

Tim McVeigh

Terry Nichols

Ted Kazynski

Eric Rudolph

Joe Stack

George Metesky

Byron de la Beckwith

Bobby Frank Cherry

James von Brunn

Herman Frank Cash

Thomas Blanton

Robert Chambliss

Robert Mathews

David Lane

Michael F. Griffin

Paul Hill

John Salvi

James Kopp

Luke Helder

Scott Roeder

James David Adkisson

Shelly Shannon

Wade Michael Page

Byron Williams

Kevin Harpman

Randall Garrett Cole

James Ray McElroy

Paul Schlesselman

Raymond Kirk Dillard

Adam Lynn Cunningham

Bonnell Hughes

William Krar

Judith Bruey

Edward Feltus

Michael Gorbey

Daniel Cowart

Fredrick Thomas

Matt Goldsby

Jimmy Simmons

Kathy Simmons

Paul Ross Evans

Kaye Higgins

Patricia Hughes

Jeremy Dunahoe

David McMenemy

Bobby Joe Rogers

Francis Grady

Demetrius “Van” Crocker

Floyd Raymond Looker

Terrorism and terroristic violence makes little sense to people who are not themselves terrorists. To arrive at that level of interpersonal violence, one must depart from the normal world where people mostly want to get along and cooperate on a daily basis. The person must internalize a particular type of narrative that concludes in extreme violence, and the path to terrorism is similar, regardless of the underlying ideology. Moghaddam (2005) describes a “narrowing stairway,” where a person begins to ascend from normal life toward an act that may be as extreme as blowing him or herself up to achieve a goal. The ascent begins when there are discrepancies between what a person believes is right and true and their actual experience in the world. The difference may be that they really believe strongly that they should be allowed to own firearms and fear reduction of that right in any degree. The difference may alternatively be that a person believes strongly that their country should be free from occupation by foreign military and they object to the presence of military bases belonging to a different country. Both are narratives that have led to recent violence.

A person may begin to ascend Moghaddam’s stairway when they feel some form of deprivation or injustice they cannot address by legal means.  The person decides that the frustration they feel can best be soothed by aggression against another person or group they feel has committed the wrong, though this may or may not objectively be true. Injustices do happen in reality, but people do protest in violent and destructive ways about both real and imagined grievances. A reality-based foundational event in US history was the Boston Tea Party, when people disgruntled about effects of a tax on imports such as tea dumped a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor. People may also feel deprived or wronged if they suffer particular mental illnesses and misunderstandings or actual hallucinations. This may have been the case in Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s belief that the US military had implanted a tracking device in his buttocks to monitor his movements, and though this was highly unlikely to be true, it increased his outrage at armed actions by the government at  Ruby Ridge and in Waco Texas. Factual events, actual injustices, and pathological misconceptions can all result in movement up the terrorism stairway.

Every time a powerful aggressor kills someone, whether intentionally killing a combatant or accidentally causing “collateral damage,” a terrorist has potentially been created. A brother, father, cousin, lover, sister, or friend may decide the act was intolerably wrong, much as the US sought to find retribution for 9/11 casualties, but if it is an aggrieved individual without an army, the person may turn to terrorism. Right or wrong, sane or insane, terrorism happens as recourse when no sanctioned, legal path is available, whether in court or in declared warfare. The definition of terrorism, which is still nebulous, seeks to differentiate between “illegal acts” of violence and those “legal” acts committed intentionally or accidentally in the course of declared warfare between two recognized State entities.  Arriving at a definition is difficult because even in a declared war, innocent non-combatants are killed, and resistance to even the most brutal dictator is illegal under the laws of the state and normally does not come from a recognized, legitimate governmental militia or army. As Mandela said, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” a phrase that gives counterterrorism experts insomnia and indigestion. Issues include:

1. The boundary between terrorism and other forms of political violence
2. Whether government terrorism and resistance terrorism are part of the same phenomenon
3. Separating “terrorism” from simple criminal acts, from open war between “consenting” groups, and from acts that clearly arise out of mental illness
4. Is terrorism a sub-category of coercion? Violence? Power? Influence?
5. Can terrorism be legitimate? What gains justify its use?
6. The relationship between guerilla warfare and terrorism
7. The relationship between crime and terrorism

(Ganor, 2002, p.290)

Since beginning the research and writing of this essay, events in Boston have progressed, and the perpetrators seem to be Chechen brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, born in Kyrgyztan and raised partly in the US (Champion, 2013). Chechnya was part of the former USSR, and Stalin forcibly relocated much of the Chechen population in 1944 after an uprising during WWII, but destruction of Chechen culture and forcible relocation had already begun under the Tzars (Evangelista, 2002). Much of the Chechen population has identified as Muslim for centuries, and radicalization in recent years has resulted in a complex web of actors and motivations within and outside the region (Hämmerli, Gattiker, & Weyermann, 2006). The Chechen wars for independence beginning in the 1990’s were simply wars fought for political independence, not jihad, though the Russian government has portrayed them as such. Islamic extremists more likely saw the Chechen struggles for independence as an opportunity to inject jihad into an unrelated conflict, primarily because the Chechens were Muslim, and the frustrations over the unsuccessful attempts at political freedom already provided a leg-up on the terrorism stairway. Most famously, Chechen militants took over 800 hostages captive at a Russian theater in 2002. All of the rebels and about 120 hostages died, in an action that was almost certainly solely political and absent radical Islamic rhetoric or aims. Significantly, members of the Chechen culture had already climbed the stairway, and only required redirection of their aggression, displacement, in psychological terms, to align with radical Islamist goals.

The third stage on the way to terrorism is described by Moghaddam (2005) as involving displacement of aggression. The Tsarnaev brothers may provide a perfect example, because the Chechens were opposed to the Soviets and were grievously attacked by the Russian Federation. The theory of displacement (Freud, _) proposes that when people get angry at someone they cannot overtly criticize or attack, they will instead attack someone of lower status who will not be able to retaliate, so the boss yells at the husband who yells at his wife who punishes the children who mistreat the dog. In terrorism, according to Moghaddam, the terrorist  lacks the power directly to attack the state, and so attacks individuals who serve as proxy for the state. The Tsarnaev brothers may have seen the attendees at the Marathon as suitable replacements for their outrage at government(s) and expressed these frustrations in aggression toward random people unable to resist. It may be, however, that the brothers were displacing aggression that did not involve national or religion narrative but were more like the Columbine or Sandy Hook killers who seem simply to hate the people who forced them into the role of outcasts. Either way, the next step toward terrorism involves deciding or accepting that violence toward people not directly related to some offending events is an acceptable way to satisfy aggressive urges.

To move further up that stairway and act out those aggressive urges, a person must then embrace moral justifications of terroristic violence as a reasonable alternative. In recent years, some Islamic leaders have endorsed violence, though the vast majority of the billion Muslims in the world have not. Violence has also been endorsed throughout history by religious organizations, including the Albigensian Crusade and other crusades of the Catholic church. Colonists in the continental United States felt strongly that the destruction of Native Americans civilizations was a righteous course ordained by the creator, and justified this violence with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny in the 19th Century,. Native Americans disagreed. To the Native Americans, the Europeans were terrorists, coming into their sovereign territory and committing unspeakable acts of violence against them. To the European settlers, if the word terrorism had been available, the Native Americans were committing acts of terrorism against them.

In modern terrorism, Bandura (2004) discusses the role of selective moral disengagement in the process of accepting and justifying terroristic violence.  The process is most thoroughly studied regarding extreme situations such as military actions, but Bandura emphasizes that the process operates in daily life. We develop automatic psychological mechanisms to reduce our self-censure when we have to do something that harms others, and this allows us to move forward despite difficult choices we must make. We constantly are figuring out why other people do what they do, partly to decide how to respond and partly to figure out what people will do in the future.  Psychology describes this as the process of construal (e.g. Sanderson 2010). We all are a little more gentle on ourselves than others, and we can cognitively reframe these construals, such as when we find out that circumstance caused an incident rather than some defect of the person involved. We restructure our thoughts, and the action becomes understandable. In terrorism, more darkly, the violence is reframed in particular ways leading up to the event. The violence, rather than being immoral, is positive motion toward a moral goal, and the targets are not good people, or at least, they are justifiable sacrifices on the road to the glorious outcome. This process is echoed in all types of terrorism, though McVeigh reportedly said he would have chosen a different target if he had known there was a daycare for very young children in the Murrah building. The children had not yet achieved the capacity to make the choices to abridge freedoms that McVeigh ascribed to their parents by association as federal employees.

Thinking becomes crystallized into rigid categories of right and wrong, good and evil, us and them, which facilitates the last step of the stairway. The target of violence must be dehumanized, which is also the case in legitimized warfare, and these rigid categories allow potential targets to be classified as targets for displacement of aggression and classed as justifiable casualties for the cause. The enemy or target is seen as less than human, perhaps even an abomination, offensive to the terrorists’ God. If you work for the government, you are taking away my freedoms. Perhaps simply by blithely going about your daily business instead of joining in disrupting the system, you enter the category of expendable other.

The killing, by this point, may appear more than legitimate to the terrorist. The action provides an outlet for frustration and rage. It may be an act that is rewarded socially with money or prestige or by divine largesse in the afterlife, or it may simply seem an incredibly awesome way to go out in a blaze of glory in an adolescent or disturbed mind. The potential victims fit into a category that makes them acceptable targets. The range of behavioral choices is narrowing, and few options other than terrorism now make sense.

In terrorist organizations, social pressures and manipulation are also applied, making the terrorist act a certainty. Note that this is not always necessary; McVeigh and Kazinsky each acted alone, if they spoke truthfully (though Terry Nichols was certainly associated with McVeigh and his ideas). The terrorist organization, however, will follow a series of particular steps similar to those used by cults, first providing a sense of social connection and support for the person, and gradually isolating him or her from anyone outside the group who might disagree with the ideas or course of action. Often, there is a charismatic leader whose moral authority and knowledge goes unquestioned, and as with Jim Jones in Guyana, such a leader can influence people to take their own lives or the lives of others and nobody will disagree. In the Boston case, this remains a question, whether someone directed the actions or whether the Tsarnaev brothers came up with the plan themselves.

The obvious question is: What can be done to prevent terrorism? Two elements may affect the possibility of terrorism: education and exposure. Education lets people become aware of diverse ideas, the ways one can access these ideas (e.g reading, libraries, and science), and the critical thinking skills to evaluate the ideas they find. Exposure aligns with Allport’s contact theory, in which housing project residents became less prejudiced as they lived in apartments adjacent to people of different ethnicity. As with the Mere Exposure effect, simply spending time with people increases liking of them, and exposure to variation within an ethnic group reduces stereotyping at the same time that general exposure reduces overall prejudice. Exposure also increases the possibility of empathy. If we can put ourselves in the shoes of others, we cannot commit violence against them.

The other obvious way to prevent violent terrorist acts is to make sure people are aware of peaceful alternatives and have access to legitimate ways for their grievances to be addressed.  This is not always possible, especially in cases of mental illness, where the grievance may be illusory. It may also be difficult in cases where each side operates from a position of moral authority and legal remedy may not happen, such as the abortion debate and the bombings of clinics. In cases where an unjust government is involved, redress requires a functioning democratic and legal infrastructure that can and will respond, or there may be no peaceful alternative. This formed the justification for the violent acts that began the American Revolution, but in over two centuries, surely we have progressed further.

Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe described an effective but non-violent response to the bombings in an interview on National Public Radio that expresses the spirit and resilience of the people of Boston:

“We are a belligerent people. We love to argue. We left to fight. There is, you know, we only care about three things in this town: sports, politics and revenge. (LAUGHTER) And the revenge will be the laughter of our children. We are not going anywhere.”

Cullen, 2013 http://www.npr.org/2013/04/16/177507483/sadness-and-defiance-the-mood-in-boston-after-attacks

Hole Foods Nazis

16 Jan
Regarding remarks by Whole Foods CEO John Mackay, I’ll be passing on shopping at yet another store run by an outspoken idiot.
I frequently shop in health food stores, having been vegetarian periodically since 1978, generally preferring organic foods, and having family members with gluten allergies. I am an occasional Whole Foods shopper, especially during trips to visit my family in a city with oddly few stores of that ilk, and I was there often over the recent holidays.

I will not be shopping there any more. I already thought their prices were a bit higher than the value their products provide, but if the CEO is this much of an idiot, we will just drive a little further to support small, locally owned stores.
This would seem to be getting a bit inconvenient– I already eliminated Papa John’s, Walmart, and Home Depot from my shopping lists– but really I can’t say that I miss them at all. I completely support people’s rights to their political views, but when people who are being consulted largely because of their position in leadership of a specific business start expressing these sorts of views via news media, I begin to exercise my right to political expression, too. Really, would anyone care what Mackey thinks if he were not CEO of a national chain?
I find it particularly abhorrent how the terms Socialism and Nazism are bandied about. Having lived and traveled abroad, I know that “Socialism” is not considered such a bad thing anywhere but the US. I appreciate that governments are in a position to do larger projects to benefit their people. President Obama, for whom I voted but with whom I do not always agree, seems to be an ardent supporter of Capitalism who sees value in some social programs. I do not see evidence of Nazi tendencies at all, and the people who use that term are blatantly going for shock value. Use of the term really demeans the suffering of millions of Soviets, Jews, Roma, gays, and others, as well as the sacrifices of the millions who fought against the 3rd Reich.
So will John Mackey’s arrogant and ill informed statements make a large change in my consumer behavior? Not really. It will, however, make a small change, and I will be re-posting a bit of anti-WF material. As a journalist, I will not be seeking to write about this, but it is on my radar now. Oddly, the best other option on Maui is a Hawaii chain owned by a homophobe, but at least he is our own local homophobe, and he’s stayed out of the news for several years.