Power and Violence

Posted: February 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’ve always argued that one reason for the prevalence of violence in families, neighborhoods, countries, and the world is how easy it is to create power from threats.  Since the vast majority of people are afraid to get hurt or to die, it makes it very easy to threaten someone in order to get them to do or stop from doing something.  “Your money or your life” is a calculus almost everyone is going to settle on the side of life.  I argued along these lines in Boricua Power and I believe the same exchange also takes place in war and with terrorism (see The Iraq Papers).  The suicidal bombers who blow themselves up in hopes of terrorizing the population and advancing their cause continue to surprise and evade most detection efforts.  They continue to succeed in terrorizing precisely because they are willing to calculate an exchange in which they lose their lives in order to get noticed.  Economics professor Eli Berman takes this analysis of terrorism one step further in his book Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. He begins by describing terrorists as rational men determined to change the world for the better.  They are not nuts, at least not most of them.  Moreover, terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban are able to gain tremendous influence over their members precisely because they meet the extremist’s deep desire to improve their society.  These organizations provide health, education, and legal services to the population.  The organization also gains influence by encouraging families to have lots of children and to send their kids to Islamic schools.  Large families make it harder for women to work and Islamic education makes it harder for young people to compete for jobs in the modern market economy.  Both of these situations give the radical Islamic organization tremendous power to influence their member’s behavior.  Members are effectively turned against valuing and integrating into what the modern marketplace offers, both goods and moral temptations.  They are also drawn tighter to the values and moral compass offered by their Islamic organization. That’s how terrorists, even those who blow themselves up, are created.  They are not brainwashed, hypnotized, or wretched souls driven to do horrible things by manipulative and corrupt overseers. Brilliant book.

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