Ralph Peters writes a good column on NRO today, headlined “The Joy of Killing for Allah: Why our ‘messaging’ won’t stop terror.” It’s worth your time.
Loyal readers of the Gormogons will not be surprised by much in it, however, as the critique of our feckless response is right out of Confucius’s Fallacy of Foreign-Policy Egocentrism (three links there), and we’ve discussed the problem (and grim solution to) the problem of loser fantasists in the grip of power fantasies.
That said, Peters’ article, with its acute diagnosis of the relative rewards on offer to a grandiose schmuck between losing himself in a cosmic drama in which he is granted with power and dispensed from morality or conversely continuing on in the humdrum reality he can’t stand, inspires another couple observations.
First, the secular religion which rules the West is great if you’re at the top of the social pyramid. Not having to worry about the morality or purpose of your life is a manageable problem if you’re vacationing in Vail, drinking really good Cabernet (and getting your legislators to legalize weed for you), and using your new tablet to streaming Cosmos and Bill Maher yukking it up over the rubes back in Des Moines (Like you, Dad! See, I’m in New York now! I’m important!). However, for the folks down the pyramid, a world defined by “lifestyle choices” in which they’re condemned to second- and third-class options—and are acutely conscious thereof—is a cruel, embittering joke.
One of the principal consolations of religion (particularly the Abrahamic religions) is their assertion that every individual matters and is (or can be) equal in the sight of God. The position of Christopher Hitchens, et al., that we can do away with religion and yet cling to this maxim in the godless guise of “universal human rights” is obviously untenable. Because the reason religion (or God, if you’re a believer) must assert the equality of souls is that humans are glaringly unequal in body, appearance, mind, etc., and very naturally set up hierarchies on one or all of these bases, as even a passing acquaintance with ancient history beats into one. Obsessed with what we don’t like about Judaism and Christianity, we forget what a cruel and cold world they reformed. Secularism looks an awful lot like ancient paganism with glibber PR.
Second, the psychic rewards Peters points to are very real and echo the phenomena that John Douglas, et al., argue for with regard to serial killers. One of the motives that most serial killers have is that they are essentially losers who aren’t particularly good at anything. Drawn to killing by some factor, they come to enjoy it not merely for the adrenaline rush of violence, sadism, or whatever else they get out of it, but also for the sense of mastery it provides them. Not only do they get to play God, for once in their lives they actually become good at something. One strongly suspects that evil freak who’s ISIS’s Westerner-beheading internet celebrity is exactly this type of personality, feeling profoundly successful at his grisly, demonic task.
Third, Peters points (mostly implicitly) to the fact that the media’s role covering the DIY Jihadists (like the guy in Canada) rests on the same, morally problematic ground as does its coverage of mass murderers. While such events are quite newsworthy, coverage of them, particularly of the biography and psychology of the perpetrator, almost certainly drives copycats.* (This copycat factor seems even more crucial for school shooters, who are overwhelmingly adolescents and therefore more emotionally impulsive, driven by the perceptions of others, and sensitive to popular culture.) The problem is even thornier however: in theory, though they show no sign of wanting to, major media could anonymize school shooters and other madmen with some effectiveness. However, the jihadists have set up a whole alternative media complex, one of the functions of which is to recruit and glorify “martyrs,” by which they mean suicide attackers. Even if they’re made nameless and faceless in the wider culture (and there’s no obvious sign of that happening), the jihadi world may provide exactly the grandstands they profoundly desire to play to.
*The major study of what policy choices inhibit multiple-victim public shootings showed that conceal-carry laws were the sole deterrent, which the authors related to the psychology of the killer, roughly: he’d likely be shot dead before he had the chance to make the ‘statement’ he wanted, so why bother? See: Lott, John R. and Landes, William M., Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Law Enforcement (April 1999). University of Chicago Law School, John M. Olin Law & Economics Working Paper No. 73. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=161637 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.161637
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.