Chapter 6: Outside Resources Transcriptions
The Science of Countering Terrorism: Psychological Perspectives: a talk by psychologist Fathali Moghaddam
Thank you very much, Fabs and Sage and all the wonderful people that made this possible. I’d like to begin by asking you to locate this little piece of paper which outlines what I’m going to say. My strategy has always been in talks to have people leave with what I want at least, and so this helps me.
My talk is based on a book that just came out on how globalization spurs terrorism, and I’d like to begin by reading the dedication of this book. “This book is dedicated to the Parents Circle. Families in Israel and Palestine who’ve lost immediate family members in the ongoing conflict and who are building on their shared grief a hopeful path to peace.”
I have the privilege and honor of working with some of these people on the Parents Circle. They have tremendously courageous, tremendously gifted people unlike the leadership in business and government in the Middle East and elsewhere I might add.
What I want to do tonight is really give you the big picture on terrorism because there are many ways of explaining terrorism but I that at the moment, in order to explain Islamic terrorism, that is what I’m focusing on, we have to look at the big picture and by the big picture I mean two things; one is from an evolutionary perspective in temporal perspective we are looking at the big picture. Also in geographical perspective we are looking at the big picture because we are looking at how globalization is impacting terrorism.
So to begin with, I’m taking an evolutionary perspective. Now by evolution I don’t want you to get nervous. I don’t mean genes. I don’t mean social biology. What I’m focusing on is mainly cultural transmission and I’m focusing particularly on the way in which we pass on styles of thinking and behavior across generations and across thousands of years. Some of the terms used to explain this transmission are carriers; something that I’ve coined, Dawkons has coined the term memes, and these are mechanisms by which we move ideas across generations and across groups.
So what I’m doing is locating terrorism in evolutionary context and also within globalization. Globalization is taking place in what I call a fractured manner. What do I mean by fractured? I mean that It is not going smoothly, there are contradictions in the way in which globalization is taking place.For example, as we are pushed by technological and economic factors towards larger and larger units, a prime example being the European Union, as the European Union is pushed to larger and larger, identity needs are anchoring people to the local and to the value bases. So what you find is this contradictory movement that as the European Union seems to be taking shape with now 27 countries and 400 million people, loaves identities are becoming more important. So for example Scottish nationalism, the bask movement, etc, ect. So I’m locating terrorism within this globalization movement and within evolutionary context.
Now within evolution there are certain behavioral styles and thinking styles that are fairly limited, they are fairly structured and that shape our behavior particularly in intergroup context. And I want to briefly touch on a few of these that research in psychology has discovered. For example, one constraint is categorization because of the tremendous amount of information that is available to us, all human beings categorize and there are certain consequences to categorization. We categorize all phenomena, whether they’re social or nonsocial, as soon we categorize certain things happen. First there is typically between-group differentiation, that is we exaggerate differences between groups. Second, there is within-group minimization differences. So for example we say men are from Mars, women are from Venus. We say things like that although in actual fact the data shows there is tremendous overlap and men and women are very similar in psychological profile in things like IQ. Now, what I’m pointing to is a consequence of automatic categorization. It’s nothing that we’re conscious of typically. Another thing that happens as soon as we categorize is that we ourselves are connected to groups and something happens as a result of that.
I want to go quickly through an exercise related to something we call the minimal group paradigm. You all see these funny numbers one to 14, 14 to one, group X, group Y. I want you to listen to two sounds I’m going to make and I want you to decide which is the sound that is louder. Now if you thought sound one was louder you’re in group X. If you thought sound two was louder you’re in group Y. Don’t tell anyone else your group membership, what I want you to do is look at that matrix and choose a column. For example if you wanted to give group X more points you can choose 14 and one. If you want to give group Y more points for example you could choose four and 11. So you simply choose a column. I’ll give you two seconds.
Okay now what typically happens with this is when you do it with lots of people, I’ve done it with many different countries, typically what you find is people are puzzled. They say, well why should I give points. I don’t know who else is in my group, or who is in the other group, or what the points mean. This is called the minimal group paradigm because it’s designed to put you in a group that is as meaningless as possible. It is supposed to be meaningless but the amazing thing about it is that even though it is designed to be meaningless, what people do is they say, oh wait a minute I’m in group X; group X gets more points. There seems to be this inevitable ethnocentric bias. We want our group to get more points even though we don’t know what that means. Now one of the explanations of why we want our group to get more points is related to identity, the idea that we want to be in a group that is positive and distinct. We want to be in that kind of group and it’s assumed that this is a universal need or human beings have this need.
There are also some other constraints that have to do with group size in addition to our wanting to be in a group that Is positively evaluated. If you think about our evolutionary history, we started walking on two feet about five million years ago and since then we have evolved larger and larger, more powerful brains and we’ve been living almost all this time in very small groups. Very small groups. Until very recently we were living in groups of a couple hundred. If you look at hunter-gatherer societies that exist today, they live in groups of not more than a few hundred. It’s only very recently that we started living in large cities and large groups. Now one of the consequences of this is that we have evolved to cope with life in small groups. Think about what happens to us when we are put into large organizations. What do we do typically? We have departments. We have subunits. For example, some of you work in Federal Agencies numbering hundreds of thousands of people. What do you do? You have your subunit. I work at Georgetown where we have about 5,500 undergraduates, about 7,000 graduate students. I don’t know them all. I have my department and my unit. That’s how we cope. So these are some of the constraints I’d like you to think about as we move to the next issue which is thinking about evolutionary processes and what has been going on over the last thousand years in particular with human societies.
As you know there is a decline in diversity among animals and plants. We have lots of discussions about this, people are concerned about this. Much of this arises because of what I call sudden contact. When there is sudden contact without preadaptation between organisms, typically one of both of them decline or even become extinct. We have lots of discussions about this when it comes to animals and plants. We have much less attention when it comes to the human side of things. We don’t typically discuss diversity decline among humans but it’s an important topic. About 500 years ago, I’m going to pick on the topic of language decline because that’s easier to deal with. Culture is so wooly. About 500 years ago, when Columbus arrived here, there were approximately 15,000 languages in the world, living languages. 15,000. There are only 6,000 left. Every month, several languages die. There are hundreds of languages with only a few speakers, some with only one speaker left. It’s estimated that by the end of the century that there will be approximately 2,000 languages left. Now why is this? Well, sudden contact. There are so many examples over the last few hundred years of groups becoming extinct. For example, the Tasmanians were wiped out in a matter of about 18 years. There are lots of examples, when groups interact, the probability of extinction is high for some groups, minority groups. Now what happens here is defense mechanisms are adapted. Defense mechanisms are common in nature. Plants have them, animals have them, and humans develop them. Humans develop defense mechanisms particularly when they see themselves in decline and possible extinction.
My contention is when you look around the world, Islamic fundamentalists are exactly in this position. They perceive globalization as a major threat, not an economic threat. When we in the West discuss globalization, we’re worried about job outsourcing and the economy. In nonwestern countries, typically they’re talking about globalization, it’s because of the threat of culture. Being overwhelmed by western culture. They see themselves in decline and about to become extinct. Let me give you a classic example; Iran before the revolution. Many people say, well you know what was going on? Why did the Shah not manage things so well? He didn’t manage because he didn’t manage because he was pushing westernization and the Islamic fundamentalists perceived the situation as involving their possible extinction. They were going to be wiped out. What kind of reaction could they have? Well one kind of reaction is terrorism. One kind of reaction is to attack in the only way you can. And there are many many examples of groups adapting terrorist tactics and you might say, well wait a minute terrorism that we’re told doesn’t work. I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t agree with the idea that terrorism doesn’t work because I’ve seen it work both large scale and small scale. I was in Iran with the revolution in ’78 and ’79 and at the beginning of the revolution there was tremendous openness, tremendous openness, women were free to go outside and the public’s sphere they didn’t have to wear the hijab, they were very active publicly. There were many different groups when I was teaching at a University there, you went into a room like this and there were all kinds of non-Islamic groups very active. Within a year, all those groups had been sidelined, women had been pushed back into the private sphere. How did this happen? Terrorist tactics. It was very effective. Bombing, killing, different types of tactics thanks to women, for example, throwing acid in peoples’ faces in the street, quickly worked.
So when people discuss terrorism they have keep in mind there are examples of effectiveness. So this is the basic idea I’m pushing is that looking at terrorism from a long-term perspective and within the context of globalization what we see is groups in a situation where they see themselves in decline and possible extinction defending themselves in a way that they see to be effective and we see obviously not to be justified or effective.
Now are there any solutions to what is going on? Are there any solutions? I’m going to present you with two possible solutions that are also large scale because I started focusing just on the large scale on evolution and globalization and I’m going to present you with two large scale solutions.
One of them I refer to as the New American Global or the New Global American Dilemma. Now what is that? We have to go back to the original American Dilemma. Some of you I’m sure know the work of Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist. Back in 1944 he published a wonderful work called the American Dilemma. That, some of you I’m sure know was about race relations. Myrdal looked at the American situation and said, there is a huge contradiction here. On the one hand we have wonderful things like the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights, ect. All the things that say, people are free, they have equal opportunities, etc. And on the other hand we have racial segregation, discrimination, and all the things we know about. Myrdal said, this cannot go on. This dilemma must be solved, and he predicted that it would be solved through equality. He said, the American line of history, the tendencies are towards that and he was right. In the 60s we had the civil rights legislation. We now have an African American about-to-become president. So this is amazing. Yes
Now what is the new global – American dilemma? The new global American dilemma is particularly important if you’re a non-westerner. If you’re sitting in North Africa, or the Middle East somewhere, or Central Africa. What is this? It’s the rhetoric of freedom and the spreading of democracy on the one hand and the support for dictatorships on the other hand. I really enjoyed myself about a month ago because I had the chance to say this in front of some senators in a Senate hearing. And I said look you cannot have the one hand keep supporting the Saudis, and the Mubaraks, and the other dictators of the world and on the other hand talk about democracy and freedom because people there are not stupid. They listen to you and they say, well wait a minute they’re talking about the spread of democracy, why are they supporting these dictatorships with troops and money? Now the traditional idea is the only way we can get steady cheap oil is by supporting these dictatorships. I think that’s absolute nonsense and I think that the events of the last few years have shown that to be nonsense. You can get much better cheap oil if you actually have competitive open markets. That’s to be decided I know.
Now another part of the solution, another part of the solution, in the final chapter of this book “How Globalization Spurs Terrorism” the title is “Women as the Solution”. I’m absolutely convinced the best, most effective, and really the only way to change the situation in Islamic countries is to change the situation of women, and by that I mean change the legal status of women. You have to change the legal status of women. You cannot do that otherwise. It won’t happen just through education. You know the old formula, give them education and it will be done. No that doesn’t work. Many people don’t realize that if you go to a place like Iran right now there are more female undergraduates than male. You know like everywhere else as soon as you give females competitive exams they beat us out. We have to think of something else.
So the solution is in the long term to change the legal status of women and unfortunately what’s happened is that the veil has become the sacred carrier, it’s become the line in the sand both in the West and in the East. If you go to Europe right now where there are approximately 20 million Muslims, the same debates are going on about the veil as you find in some Middle Eastern countries because fundamentalists have realized that it is through the veil that they can try their best to maintain the traditional role of women. Once you’ve transformed the role of women, we know from research that you transform the family, that you transform socialization processes, and you change the next generation.
I’ll stop there. Thank you.
Student Video 1: Persuasion Transcription
Speaker 1: By the age of 16 you will have already seen more than six million advertisements. Every single one of them trying to convince you to do what someone else wants. In 1984 Richard Petty and John Cacioppo came up with the revolutionary theory for persuasion that predicts how and when people will be persuaded. They called it The Elaboration Likelihood Model. Essentially the theory describes two manners of being persuaded. The Peripheral and Central Route.
Speaker 2 / Dr Richard Petty: In the Elaboration Likelihood Model there’s the Central Route and the Peripheral Route. The Central Route is any time some variable works because you’ve really thought about that quite a bit. The Peripheral Route is when you decide very quickly and very easily about something.
Speaker 1: For example, why do television commercials use attractive individuals to advertise their products? Well, according to the Halo Effect we automatically like people we perceive to be attractive, therefore when we’re not really paying attention peripheral cues like a person’s attractiveness makes us like the product because we like the person.
Speaker 3 / Yoga Woman: Mare water. Stay hydrated.
Speaker 1: But there are other cues besides attractiveness that can persuade you too. Did you notice her glasses to make her seem more credible? How about the happier music to make you feel better? However, if you were thinking deeply about the message cues like these will have less of a persuasive effect on you. Under the Central Route you are only evaluating the message upon the merits of its’ arguments and you realize things like the attractiveness of the actress has nothing to do with that. Because it takes effort to think critically like this, there are a number of heuristics, or mindless mental shortcuts, that we rely on to make decisions. Advertisers love to pray on these. Research has outlines seven different heuristics that advertisers often benefit off of, but one you’re probably most familiar with is named scarcity. Products that call themselves limited edition or commercials that demand you order in the next 30 minutes operate on your fear that if you don’t act now, you’ll never get the product. Another heuristic advertisers rely on is called social proof. For example, whenever you see a book that has New York Times Bestseller stamped across the top of it, it tells you that a lot of other people like this book too, so you should as well. But again both of these heuristics and the others all rely on the fact that you’re not thinking when you see the advertisement. Therefore, the next time you feel an automatic reaction to purchase something ask yourself, why do I feel this way?
Speaker 4: You probably don’t know.