General Question

ninjacolin's avatar

How would you explain to a potential terrorist why terrorism is a poor method for delivering a message?

Asked by ninjacolin (14243points) July 23rd, 2011
41 responses
“Great Question” (4points)

Imagine someone confessed to you that they were considering resorting to terrorist activities to draw attention to their cause. How would you explain to them why it’s a bad idea?

If they would listen to you, what ideas and logic would you use to help them understand why terrorism isn’t a solution?

What arguments do you think they would make in defense of terrorist actions? How would you overcome those arguments?

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marinelife's avatar

I would, probably without any effect, explain that violence is never an answer.

That hurting others would not win them any converts, but would crystallize feelings against their beliefs.

saraaaaaa's avatar

I would show them the news reports for the last 10 years.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
incendiary_dan's avatar

Define terrorism.

I think this question assumes that terrorism is necessarily symbolic in action. What if they’re just doing it to actually change circumstances, like sabotaging a company to hurt their profits (as the organization MEND does in Nigeria)? Or are we just considering it terrorism when it’s to prove a point/bring attention?

ninjacolin's avatar

I guess I mean bombing government buildings and/or harming civilians.

koanhead's avatar

“You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.”

incendiary_dan's avatar

Then maybe it’s not to prove a point or bring attention to a cause. It could just be a formulated attempt to kill people and damage infrastructure. Most people labeled as terrorists feel that they’re at war. They may just be choosing strategic targets.

ninjacolin's avatar

^ Cool, I can accept that. In that case, what reasoning would you use to dissuade them from believing they’re at war?

incendiary_dan's avatar

@ninjacolin I wouldn’t; most of the time they are. I’d just tell them to make sure they’re picking legitimate targets.

dabbler's avatar

@incendiary_dan has some good thinking there. By the time you describe meeting them it is too late, they are at war. The legitimacy of targets is a good point and considerring what will be the effectiveness of the attack could be useful.

Perhaps asking what is the goal and really getting to the bottom of what goals do they think they are serving is useful. Then the focus might usefully go to how effective their intended actions are going to be toward that.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Case in point: the organization I mentioned earlier, MEND, tried nonviolent resistance for 25 years. The Shell company has consistantly used fear, terrorism, and murder to stop their activists. It was about time they picked up arms. The West, when it bothers to notice them at all, tends to refer to them as terrorists.

keobooks's avatar

Honestly, if someone confessed to me they were thinking of committing and act of terrorism, I’d call the cops. That’s what you’re supposed to do when someone tells you that they have the ways and means of harming other people.

I’d probably wonder if they suddenly got some sort of mental illness and needed psychiatric help. I think some people use political or social causes as an excuse to commit acts of violence that they wanted to do anyway.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Choke them out, then call the cops. Then choke them out again.

koanhead's avatar

Terrorism is an extreme example of “negative reinforcement” in the context of behavior modification. It’s been known for at least twenty years that negative reinforcement is considerably less effective than positive reinforcement in actually changing people’s behavior.
Unfortunately there is not yet any rigorous science regarding the behavioral psychology of states so far as I know.
Terrorism is a form of protest which has been used to attempt to persuade states to change their behavior. I’m not sure of any example to date in which it has actually worked in this context.
If someone could correct me in this I’d be grateful. In the meantime I have to regard terrorism (defined here as destructive measures taken to effect a change in state behavior) as almost entirely ineffective and in fact mostly counter-productive.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t believe I’d try. Such a person is not likely to be open to logical explanations.

If I really thought someone I knew were planning an act of terrorism, I hope I’d have the courage and the presence of mind to pretend to act interested, even sympathetic, and elicit all the details I could get. I’d regard the appropriate authorities as a much more effective stopping force than anything I could say.

Ron_C's avatar

A terrorist is a person that attacks civilians with the sole purpose of making them afraid and with the belief that it somehow benefits their cause.

That is different however than people that attack military targets. For instance, attacks on police and military bases are not terrorism. Blowing up office buildings is.

You can talk a person out of military action because they have a real goal, Terrorists, however, are single minded and not open to a great deal of thinking or logic. If I had an acquittance that was planning a terrorist act, I’d turn him into the police, or possibly push him off a tall building.

snowberry's avatar

People like terrorists are not much interested in anyone’s logic or argument. They are as much into power and governing by fear as anything else. There simply is no room for an “ah ha moment” with them.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Actually, terrorism is a great way to deliver a message. It’s a poor way to get the changes you desire, but everyone will hear your message first.

mattbrowne's avatar

I would try to use certain communication approaches also used in restorative justice practices.

ninjacolin's avatar

@mattbrowne, could you elaborate on that?

JessicaRTBH's avatar

There is really no reasoning with a terrorist in my opinion. I may know this hypothetical friend of yours though. The FBI helps with that kind of thing right?

ninjacolin's avatar

@Ron_C said: “A terrorist is a person that attacks civilians with the sole purpose of making them afraid and with the belief that it somehow benefits their cause”

I like this definition.

I consider this question a failure. I’m sorry that I failed to get so many of you to think along the lines of what you might say to someone with the above mindset who was willing to hear your opinion.

I abhor the many defeatist sentiments expressed like: “There is really no reasoning with a terrorist in my opinion” or “People like terrorists are not much interested in anyone’s logic or argument. They are as much into power and governing by fear as anything else. There simply is no room for an “ah ha moment” with them” or “I’d call the cops”

Pessimism is stupid and useless. Pessimism is stupid and useless.

snowberry's avatar

@ninjacolin Pessimism or realism? It’s only when you are disillusioned (without illusions) that you can begin to deal with reality. If I were cornered or captured by a terrorist, I would not be pessimistic, but I would be realistic about my situation. Does that mean I would be without hope? Not a bit!

koanhead's avatar

@ninjacolin I suspect that the tendency to answer with a generalization about “terrorists” has less to do with pessimism than with fear. People don’t want to admit to themselves that “terrorists” are actual people who do things for reasons. In a great many cases they were persuaded to perform the terrorist act by someone in the first place, so they are clearly amenable to persuasion.

Terrorists are the enemy so it’s natural for people to dehumanize them. I don’t blame people for thinking / feeling that way, but it isn’t particularly helpful.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ninjacolin There is no rational argument that will persuade an irrational person. This isn’t just true of terrorists, it’s true of all irrational people. And you don’t come to the conclusion that you should blow people up without a good sized helping of irrational. This isn’t pessimism, this is a basic understanding of human psychology. If manipulating someone into doing whatever you wanted was this easy, we’d all be puppetmasters. It’s not, hence the answers.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – It’s about seeing the human being in people instead of abstract views and simple enemy images. It’s a long shot. Some professional would have to work with the potential terrorist for many months if not years.

JessicaRTBH's avatar

@ninjacolin – I actually agree with you, pessimism is stupid and useless. However, that’s not what I was being. Abhor the statement all you want. It’s realistic and my factual answer. I have no pretend dialogue of what I’d say because I wouldn’t care to engage a terrorist in a conversation. It’s not fear it’s common sense

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Reason with them? How does one reason with Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto? How was this not reported by one of the 7,000 people he sent it to in advance of him killing 76 kids? Did his manifesto tempt those who received it to substitute action for apathy and/or empathy to his noble cause?

Tell you what. If you’re going to make it perfectly clear that your cause could hurt, kill and maim my children, then your right to free speech has been satisfied. And though you don’t want to talk about it beyond what you’ve stated, let me make myself perfectly clear.

First, YOU DIE, and then we’ll talk about it all you want.

ninjacolin's avatar

@koanhead thank you for those comments. You got it completely.

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies said: “How does one reason with Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto? How was this not reported by one of the 7,000 people he sent it to in advance of him killing 76 kids? Did his manifesto tempt those who received it to substitute action for apathy and/or empathy to his noble cause?”

That’s a great question. They say suicide victims, as example, tend to ask for help through their actions before really attempting suicide. A 1500 page manifesto is kind of a big sign. If the 7000 people he sent it to in advance considered their input useless and were instead apathetic and decided to do nothing about it, neither to report it nor to take him out for lunch and have a serious discussion on the matter.. how else was he suppose to know that he’s an idiot? He’s not going to decide he’s an idiot on his own.

@Aethelflaed said: “There is no rational argument that will persuade an irrational person”

People are never irrational unless they have dementia. You’re dehumanizing people who disagree with you: You are accusing people who have drastically different opinions than yours of simply being “irrational” in coming to their conclusions instead of recognizing that they came to those conclusions through purely rational means.

ninjacolin's avatar

@snowberry asked: Pessimism or realism?

The reality of the question was that the individual would hypoethetically listen and discuss the matter with you in confidence. Pessimism, I assume, is what lead most of the repliers not to consider or respond to that hypothetical situation.

snowberry's avatar

Actually I’ve had discussions with people of this mentality, not terrorists mind you, but people completely entrenched in their belief system. It’s never worked.

However, I could say,
“It’s a bad idea hon. Don’t do it!”
“Don’t you care about all the people you might hurt?”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!”
“Didn’t your momma breast feed you?”

Ah, you get my drift.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ninjacolin No, I’m not dehumanizing people. I don’t think being irrational is the worst thing a person could ever possibly do, and in fact I think it’s an integral part of what makes us “human”. I do, however, think that people have cognitive distortions. And that the emotional part of the brain is in a different region than the logic part of the brain, so they don’t tend to work together. Some people just have different logic, and that’s fine, and I try to understand that. But others are going to create facts to fit what they feel emotionally, and I’m not going to change their minds with “ah, but according to the latest statistics/study/whatever” or a “You know, the philosopher Nietzsche said”. Nor can I undo deep emotional scars that they’ve had for a lifetime in one or two conversations – there’s a reason therapy takes so long. People don’t stop being alcoholics just because you said “The only reason you drink is because your parents never validated you, so you turn to booze as an external source of validation while recreating the unhealthy environment because it’s what feels most natural to you”. And people who have completely overcome their sense of empathy and have decided to kill tons of people are going to have some pretty deep psychological issues. I’m not explaining to them why they’ve been buying a toilet paper that is actually more expensive all these years, I’m explaining to them why everything they’ve ever held dear, everything they’ve ever thought, is wrong. And it’s hard enough trying to convince people that they’ve made a bad toilet paper purchasing decision, most aren’t really interested in hearing that they’re completely and totally wrong. And dementia isn’t the only thing that causes people to act irrationally. I believe the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders could very easily be called instead “Things That Make People Act Irrationally”.

ninjacolin's avatar

You’re dodging the question of the thread, @Aethelflaed.
I suppose you’re doing so irrationally.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ninjacolin Kinda felt like everyone else had said it already…

ninjacolin's avatar

So, your lack of participation was all I deserved then?
That’s what a terrorist feels like.
“They should’ve known by now. It’s their faults. This is what they deserve.”

This isn’t irrational for either you nor the terrorist. It’s a rational conclusion that you and the terrorist hold similarly. You have a justification for your conclusion. It may not be well thought out, but it’s actaul. It’s real to you. And it’s sensible… to you. Which is why you and/or terrorists behave accordingly.

The smallest bit of doubt can make someone pause to think. It can make them want to talk more and figure things out more before taking a path of no return.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ninjacolin No, I just don’t always contribute by restating exactly what others have said. Instead, I go for the GA. That is a form of participation. I then added what I felt I could.

The question isn’t if the terrorist feels their line of thinking is rational. It’s if there is anything I could possibly say to change their mind. And I don’t think there is.

ninjacolin's avatar

Actually, my question was: what arguments would you present against someone considering acts of terrorism and what counter-arguments do you expect to have to deal with. ACTUAL QUESTION: How would you explain to a potential terrorist why terrorism is a poor method for delivering a message?

Yes, most of the participation in this discussion is technically irrelevant to the question.

I would say, you mis-read or didn’t understand the question. I suppose you and others would say that you irrationally concluded that the question was one about whether terrorists are irrational or not.

ninjacolin's avatar

Seeing as so many participants in this discussion were answering the wrong question… by your own definitions, were you participants behaving “irrationally” in your responses?

Is that what you guys mean by “irrational” ??
Simply making mistakes in judgement? Not seeing things for what they really are?

Do you really believe such mistakes deem a person incorrigible?
Do you really believe people who make these kinds of mistakes deserve punishment rather than conversation and education?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ninjacolin Ok, I have to ask: Are you so adamant about getting a certain type of answer because this is a real life scenario for you? Because if that’s the case, you should really just call Homeland Security.

Look, if we can’t convince you that there’s not really a logical argument one can put forth to talk someone out of killing as many people as possible, possibly including themselves, what makes you so sure there is a logical argument that can do just that? It seems like your refusal to believe otherwise sorta proves our point.

ninjacolin's avatar

Do you know why people believe, disbelieve, or change their beliefs on things?
Hint: It’s not by free choice.

“if we can’t convince you”… it means that you’ve failed to provide sufficient evidence to coerce my opinion.

“can’t” implies impossibility. It’s defeatist. Defense lawyers aren’t anything like this.. and that’s why they are able to affect the decisions of a jury.

ninjacolin's avatar

“what makes you so sure there is a logical argument that can do just that”
this is a very good question, I guess.

First of all, someone “considering” taking an action is someone who is yet undecided. Which is why I set the question up that way.

Even if they were decided, however, as long as they aren’t in the heat of the moment (and sometimes even then) there’s time to negotiate.

I’m “so sure” because I know how malleable perspectives are. I would say I have a deep understanding of what all is involved in “conversion.” What conversion requires, how to cause it, and of course an idea of what a person goes through during the process.

Certainly, I understand when others don’t appreciate the malleable nature of conviction. It makes them consider others incorrigible. I’ve learned that that is a conclusion fraught with desperation to have about another person.

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