Friday, February 04, 2011

Is This a Terrorist?

Would you call this individual a "terrorist"?

This agent does not like to get his hands dirty. He does not blow things up himself. Instead, he turns on Fox News every day and waits for news that a terrorist act has taken place. An airplane blows up, a bomb goes of at a concert, a nuclear warhead goes off in a major city.

Instantly, he sends out a message claiming responsibility. "My organization's leaders ordered this attack. His followers executed it. Furthermore, if you do not meet my organization's demands we will do more of the same."

His message includes some vague threats that - that failure to meet these demands will result in some future bomb going off.

He is using terror as a political weapon. This sounds like a terrorist.

Well, what is the difference between this person and the religious leader who turns on the news, hears a report of some natural disaster, then releases a statement saying, "My boss God did this and, unless you meet our demands, he will do more of the same?"

The difference might be intent. Terrorist above knows that he is lying. But would he be less of a terrorist if he believed he served a boss who was responsible for those attacks? Would he be less of a terrorist if he really did serve such a boss?

No. He can find no escape in that direction.

Now, what if the terrorist boss gives a message to a random person saying, "I am going to cause some horrible thing to happen. When it happens, you release this message."

Well, that messenger is not, himself, a terrorist.

That is, not until the messenger declares himself a free and willing servant of the man who gave him the message. An attitude of shock and horror that somebody would use such tactics and the most reluctant cooperation would free him of the accusation. Loyal admiration and eager obedience does not.

These are the conclusions that follow if such a leader actually exists and gave a message to our agent. Nothing changes for the follower if the leader is imaginary. At best, the eager messenger can get off with a plea of "Not guilty by reason of insanity." at worst, his eagerness to serve such a boss, whether real or imaginary, leaves him, "Guilty as charged."

Remember, I am talking here of the willing and eager servant - a messenger - of a boss who would use weapons of mass destruction (earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, plague, floods, drought) as a political tool.

Would you call that messenger a terrorist?


Anonymous said...

Great post. This reminds me of the football player that tries to cheat by praying to god to intervene before a game winning field goal.

Hensatri said...

I really like the thought. I think this goes a long way towards proving that this type of mindset is deplorable, but I think there is something is missing. I don't think intent covers it. We would arrest the man pretending to represent a powerful terror organization, but someone making the same threats, but claiming the reprisal would come from her pet unicorn, would only be arrested if they were so persistant as to be a nusance. Perhaps the very fact that the sources of harm in the God and Unicorn case are imaginary is the difference that separates them from the man who falsely claims backing of a very real type of threat.

Mike said...

I can appreciate your analogy. Thankfully, the vast majority of Christians would find this type of terrorist to be a kook. My question would be: Where does one draw the line between the preacher who gives warnings of disaster based on his personal beliefs and somebody who is not a preacher doing the same?

Like the guy who said this: "....these people are gathering to plot a strategy that will allow them to pursue even more money for themselves through policies that will force injury, illness, destruction of property, and death on hundreds of millions - probably billions - of other people. They want to preserve the right to disregard the interests others have in their own life, health,and property in their own pursuit of a few more dollars."

Yeah, that's you, talking about the Koch brothers. I suppose you could have stuck with harmless facts about Koch - that they are gathering to plot strategy that will allow them to employ even more people (typically with very good pay), continue to broker and supply affordable energy needed for the efficient production and transport of food, make it possible for us to warm and cool our homes, etc. I understand that saying they're trying to kill a billion people makes a bigger splash.

Before you call me a climate change denier, save your time, I'm not. However, anyone who chooses to act and preach based on faith of the scientific "consensus", when there clearly isn't one, is not only spitting in the face of the scientific method they claim to cherish - they also commit the same logical fallacies often associated with the religious.

dbonfitto said...


Your post had me reeling for a bit. The canary in the coal mine is not the agent causing the lack of oxygen.

Re-reading Alonzo's post, I think he anticipates this when he brings up the question of agency. If the messenger is discovering an IF/THEN statement in the natural world, it's one thing. If the messenger is creating the IF/THEN statement, it's another.

Interestingly, I think that this may indicate that good science is a indispensable tool of morality.

Mike said...

Hi, TGP.

First, I agree with your last sentence.
Where we differ is in defining the 'process' of message creation.

It may be easy for us to dismiss a preacher out of hand because we automatically snap to the conclusion that he is an ill-informed nut. I'd be willing to wager that the preacher honestly believes he discovered (not created) the IF/THEN scenario based on all the information he has read and conditions he is witnessing.

I'm not saying my comparison is perfect, but the underlying philosophy is pretty darn close:
One fully believes what he is saying, even though much of his information is probably flawed... some flat-out proven wrong...but continues to demonize those he can't relate to (while attempting to alter our behavior) with threats of doom.
The other does basically the same.

I guess my big problem here is based in every-day reality.
I don't expect a preacher to understand the trans-gender prostitute moral structure - but I do expect us to recognize, empathize and understand the uncomfortable situation we're putting our friends, family and many decent people in when we broad-stroke an entire industry as "evil".
If we want to think we're better than the preacher, we should make sure there is a large distinction in our actions.

dbonfitto said...


If you've got a solution to the problem of "the problem is very complex and requires a good bit of education to understand the problem," I'm willing to listen.

In my opinion, that's the biggest problem with the GW problem. Trying to explain climate modeling to the "Math is Hard" crowd when the clock is ticking is a quite a feat.

Mike said...

I think we're moving away from the original point of my comment, but I believe it's pretty clear that the hyperbole of the 'sky is falling TODAY!' crowd is drawing as many flies to climate education as the 'you will be damned to hell' crowd is drawing to church.

Yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote this about Egypt:
"The pattern we're seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you'd expect from climate change. . . .But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we're getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we'll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come."

Predictions of doom from preachers and pundits alike may frighten the stupid, but are likely to do more harm than good with an intelligent crowd. Every time I read idiocy like that of Krugman's, I pay less and less attention to the warnings of climate change.

So, I guess my opinion would be to stop with the name-calling and slippery slope fallacies...attracting a decent-sized crowd of smart, intellectually honest people will allow you to make more progress towards your goal than achieving influence over those who can't think past the initial (and probably false) threat.

Unless, of course, your real goal is merely to control the masses...

dbonfitto said...

a decent-sized crowd of smart, intellectually honest people

Honest question: How big is decent-sized? What if that crowd is less than 51% because a small crowd of very wealthy and influential people are constantly raining misinformation on their parade?

Yes, that intellectually honest crowd should take the high road. The problem is that the low road is a six-lane superhighway.

Anonymous said...

I was reading where atheists are actually claiming evolution is a religion. What do you guys think? I read the article at it says and I quote" “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality … This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today…

I would say Evolution is not a religion but their argument is that evolution has not been proven.

dbonfitto said...

Evolution isn't 'proven.' It's the curve that best fits the data points. It's a hypothesis that has survived a ton of observation and experiment. It's a scientific theory because it has testable predictability.

Karl Popper pretty much covers the whole 'proven/not proven' malarkey.

Also, They Might Be Giants has a catchier version:

Najwalaylah said...

"Where does one draw the line between the preacher who gives warnings of disaster based on his personal beliefs and somebody who is not a preacher doing the same?"

Good question, Mike, but there's a simple (not easy, but simple) answer for me: the line is not between the preacher and the non-preacher but between the rationalist and the irrationalist.

If someone has a personal belief that because of observable (a), (b), and (c) that (d) becomes predictable, then they may be wrong in my opinion but I will thank them for sharing that belief, the first time.

If someone believes that "God hates fags, and we should, too", then I will be forced to point out that as far as I can see it is only people that bother to hate some others for sexual preferences that need not concern them, and that not all people do that hating.

If a guy who lives in a cardboard box in an alley tries to warn me that I really need a tinfoil hat, I don't believe him, but I do not feel that he wishes he were being threatening-- if that's all there is to it. Depends on if he starts following me or what.

If someone who worships a deity, being it Jesus or Cthulhu, comes up to me and tells me the equivalent of "My God will return some day to this Earth, and when He does, all of YOU will die!!!", I don't believe him, either, but I find I also want to warn him: (assume CAPS) "Quit Threatening Me".

Oddly enough, would you believe it? Not one follower of Cthulhu has ever said that to me, largely because Cthulhu and his followers are found only in books and elaborate jokes. The Jesus that people say they believe in is also found (as far as I can determine) only in books (and sometimes not even in those books, as such), but "his followers" in the irrational sense are very real.

People worry too much, sometimes, about 'being judgmental' when in fact being judgmental is one of those uniquely human faculties that along with the others allow us to take care and responsibility. I judge in all honesty that some religious people do hope to terrorise me, and my street smarts won't let me ignore that perception for the sake of politeness.