Mechanism -- The Ugly Truth That Nobody Wants To Know (Chapter 3)
©2005 Darel Rex Finley

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There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad

“Riders On the Storm” — The Doors

MURDER IS A SUBJECT OF ENDLESS FASCINATION in human society. From Shakespeare’s plays to today’s immense plethora of true-crime TV shows and the celebrity status of serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeff Dahmer, it seems that the subject of murder is never far from the public’s mind. The phenomenon of murder is strongly related to every major human conception of origins and purpose. In pre-Darwinian times, large religions (primarily Christianity in the west) controlled most popular perceptions of human origins and purpose, and taught that murder is a serious offense against our creator-God. Committing murder, we were told, imparts a substantial risk of being cast into hell in the afterlife, and missing out on the fantastic rewards of heaven. When one considers that Christianity might be false, then it becomes apparent that the story of heaven and hell is simply meant to discourage people from committing murder. Even during the Christian-dominated periods of western history, this deterrence was never considered to be enough by itself, and murderers were imprisoned or executed whenever possible. But many murders went unsolved, or were incorrectly solved, and the technology with which they could be solved was very limited; hence, it was necessary to discourage murder by teaching of a much greater (and unevadable) set of consequences. And not only did the tenet of hell discourage many would-be murderers, but the problem of murder discouraged the doubting of the tenet of hell: Few wanted to challenge it, out of fear that murder might escalate out of control, ruining western society and/or leaving it vulnerable to attack by other societies. And if anyone did challenge the existence of hell, the authorities sensed danger and put down that person by force, which in turn further deterred anyone else from speaking out against it.

By the time Darwinism hit the scene, the improved technology of policing society and investigating crimes had substantially lessened the pressure to rigorously teach and enforce the idea of heaven and hell as a society-wide certainty, and open doubt was tolerated. Darwinism’s success, for the most part, rendered the story of heaven and hell seriously questionable if not outright fictional. In the Darwinian scheme, murder is just a form of aggressive competition by which animals compete in the “survival of the fittest.” But Darwinism did not imply that the never-ending combat of wild animals necessarily extends to humans. Since humans are intelligent, and have constructed systems to confine and destroy murderers, the fittest strategy for individual survival might not be to murder at all, but instead jockey for social standing and economic success. (This can be observed among many species of higher, non-human animal as well.) So Darwinism did not render murder a positive attribute — but certainly eliminated any idea that it is an absolutely immoral act.

Now it appears that we are on the cusp of Darwinism’s demise, and its replacement with ID and that to which ID ultimately leads. Christian-leaning ID proponents like Johnson want to believe that ID can restore the pre-Darwinian dominion of Christian theology, but too much has changed since then. First, as noted earlier in this book, ID doesn’t just wipe away Darwinism and put us back where we were; instead it kills Darwinism by moving in and replacing it with something else, which doesn’t turn out to be very Christianity-friendly at all. And secondly, the technology of reliably determining guilt in cases of murder has advanced tremendously, to the point where it is difficult to persuade people that teaching the story of hell is necessary to ensure a reasonably safe and secure community.

— • —

Aside from concepts of the afterlife, how does society naturally react to the phenomenon of murder? How do people really feel about murder? No one wants to die — at least not before they are ready — and so a law against murder forms naturally in human society, and is the most rigorously investigated and enforced law on the books. It is one of the few crimes that has no statute of limitations on prosecution. But despite the strong efforts to stop murder, it would be wrong to think that everyone is really against it. Obviously, murder would never occur if there did not exist diverse opinions about whether it is acceptable to do. However, there is a near-unanimity of opinion that the government needs to suppress the occurrence of murder generally. For example: Assuming that, despite his courtroom acquittal, O.J. Simpson did in fact kill his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron (as strongly suggested by genetic and circumstantial evidence), that would certainly indicate that O.J. finds murder acceptable. But he would surely still want a general government policy that quells most murders, so that he can live in a reasonably safe and prosperous society.

Such feelings about murder closely parallel feelings about pornography. There is tremendous diversity concerning whether it is acceptable to partake of or participate in the creation of pornographic materials, but near-unanimity of opinion regarding whether one’s children should do so. Virtually no one wants their children to engage in pornographic activities (often not even after those children have grown to legal adulthood). That is why pornography, despite being at least a $10 billion-a-year business, is largely invisible as one strolls through everyday America. Even the people who want to view it — or even make it — would rather not see it most of the time, and want to control its availability to their dependent family members. Almost no one wants to turn society into a ghastly freak show where pornography is openly on display, and one must cloister oneself to avoid it. Likewise, even those who sometimes want to murder, or even have murdered someone, would prefer to live in a society in which murder is largely suppressed; where one is reasonably safe from murder on any given day, in any typical venue.

Since the mere, unexplained disappearance of an active (known) member of society is pretty much impossible to hide, statistics on murder can be compiled even in the absence of everyone’s willingness to truthfully answer the survey question “Have you ever murdered anyone?” And the data indicate that the percentage of living persons who will ever murder during their lifetime is quite small: at most one half of 1%.18 But how many have seriously considered murder? And how seriously — did they just think about it for a few minutes and then discard the idea, or did they actually make some physical preparations for the act before changing their minds? And how much time and effort did they expend on those preparations? That statistic is not gatherable at all, but we can infer an answer from other observations.

A friend of a friend of mine went to the police academy, graduated, and became a police officer. Then (I was told) he discovered to his dismay that most people don’t like the police. To me, this story is symptomatic of the sharp discrepancy between the way many people perceive the population’s attitude on crime, and the truth of the situation. In Figure 3-1 we see the naïve view that society is simply divided into two camps: a small group of incorrigible criminals and an overwhelming majority of good, productive, sensible, law-abiding citizens.

Figure 3-2 shows a more accurate depiction of the population’s position on crime. Only a very small fraction of the population is naturally law-abiding; the great majority want to commit crime. Only a small percentage of those actually do engage in criminal activity, and the rest are effectively deterred by the knowledge of what will probably happen to them if they do not obey. In the naïve view, the primary purpose of the gun on a police officer’s hip is to apprehend criminals. Actually, that is the weapon’s secondary purpose. Its primary purpose is to remind law-abiding citizens, “You darn well better keep on obeying the law, or this gun will be turned against you.” That is certainly an effective way to maintain civilization — perhaps our only way at the level of technology we currently enjoy — but it is not without some negative side effects. One of those side effects is that the middle (deterred) group, who comprise most of the population, are not going to like the police.

Evil and Complexity

The observation that most people don’t like the police, and are thus members of the “deterred” category of Figure 3-2, suggests that a very large percentage of the population has earnestly considered, but not committed, a serious crime such as murder. This goes against the popular perception that murder — or even the desire to do it — is an aberration. Robert Ressler, the famed murderer-hunter who actually invented the term “serial killer,” has said that mass murderers’ behavior is literally “evil” and “comes from hell.” He also said that the D.C. Beltway Sniper “thinks he’s the center of the universe.”19 But what if he doesn’t? What if the Beltway Sniper knows he’s not the center of the universe (as much as any of us know that), but simply wants to snipe anyway? Ressler’s sentiments reflect the common public perception that peaceful, productive interaction with other persons is the norm, and murderous destruction is the bizarre exception. People are thought to peacefully interact “naturally,” and it seems that a diabolical, premeditated plan is required to make them behave destructively. Evil is popularly portrayed as a person or a palpable object, such as Satan in the Christian religion, or Armus in the Star Trek episode “Skin of Evil.”

But this is not so — destruction is the norm, and it takes very special kinds of premeditated controls and systems to avoid it. For example, what would happen if the people behind the wheels of cars on the highway were suddenly to become unable to distinguish the difference between a car and a section of open road, or were to lose the ability to accurately steer their cars? Mass destruction would surely result, and in very short order. It is avoided by a very complex system of destruction avoidance, programmed into the brain of each driver. When that complex system becomes corrupted or damaged in any individual, the result can be catastrophic.

In the early days of the war against cancer, it was thought that cancer, like other diseases, would be found to be the result of some aberrant cause that, once eliminated, would cure the disease, allowing the cells to behave “normally.” Decades of intensive study, however, have shown that the tendency of cells to behave cancerously is a very natural phenomenon, and multiple, complex systems exist to prevent it. One system scans the cell’s DNA looking for irreparable damage and makes the cell suicide if such damage is found. Another system causes the cell to suicide if it hasn’t been able to find productive work for a certain amount of time. Immune cells examine other cells at random and destroy them if serious abnormalities are found. And chemical signaling systems regulate tissue growth and the formation of new blood vessels.

There is a close analogy between cancer cells and murderous (or habitually criminal) human individuals. Many people who find themselves chronically miserable and unable to achieve success of a form that they can recognize and appreciate, simply kill themselves. But not all do. Some of them go on suicidal rampages, taking down about five to twenty other, randomly selected individuals. Some of them become secret predators, appearing 99% of the time to be normal individuals, happy with their achieved level (or future prospects) of success — but privately profoundly unhappy and dissatisfied, and engaging in murder when the occasional window of opportunity presents itself. Notice that the specific, physical actions involved in committing murder are actions people take for granted every day, such as cutting open a melon with a big knife, squeezing the water out of a wet towel, or pounding a nail with a hammer. These physical capabilities are usually used for productive purposes, but if they were randomly applied by most individuals to any other individuals or objects around them, they would cause horrendous destruction. Likewise with cellular biology: There is scarcely a cellular subsystem or activity that could not cause grievous harm if misapplied. Peaceful cooperation, rather than being the “normal” background pattern against which demons roam, is instead the result of a very tediously created program for nonviolent productivity and harmony. Probably most human-on-human harm results from random, mutational glitches in that program.

How does the human body deal with cancerous cells? It is believed that the average person technically gets cancer many times in her life, but most of those times she never knows it because her immune system destroys it before it becomes large enough to cause significant harm. An immune cell grabs onto a randomly selected cell and performs a sophisticated chemical analysis, which may even involve opening up the suspect cell and examining the contents of its DNA. If the immune cell likes what it sees, it puts everything back in place, and moves away, effectively saying, “carry on.” In our society there is a strong aversion to the idea of police randomly stopping cars to see if the driver happens to be carrying a crowbar, stocking mask, and handcuffs in his back seat. But slowly, as this loathing is counterbalanced by one ghastly mass-murder episode after another (September Eleventh adding a particularly persuasive punch), social resistance to population monitoring is breaking down.20 Witness “MATRIX,” (Multistate Anti- TeRrorism Information eXchange) an experimental program that attempted to track and measure the threat level of individuals in the general population, who haven’t even been notified that they are being monitored. The purpose of the MATRIX program, as it was conceived, was simply to assist law enforcement in knowing where to focus their surveillance efforts. It could be the progenitor of a national (global?) filtering system whereby limited resources can be used to identify the most dangerous individuals out of very large populations. Routine, census-like data on a million individuals can be used to decide which thousand to examine more closely, which in turn can be used to decide which hundred should be covertly observed for a few days each, finally culminating in a short list of a dozen individuals who need to be continuously monitored for signs that they are moving from the “potential killer” category into the “killer” category. And MATRIX, or something a whole lot like it, will become all the more effective when genetic screening can become one of its steps. The fast-paced work on the human genome promises to provide such data in the not-too-distant future.

Put simply, we are in a period between the decline of the religious solution and the upcoming technological solution, and in this middle phase we can expect a surge of mass-murder, in the absence of either solution. (See Figure 3-3.) The purpose of this surge is to give society the steely nerve that is needed to finally give up on religious concepts of free will and divine judgment, and to move on to a more direct, technological approach, which is now coming to within our grasp.

The Dilemma of Free Will

Does the premise of a genetically assisted MATRIX program contradict the idea of free will? It certainly seems to. But actually, the proponents of free will have long contradicted themselves on the subject of murder. On one hand, they told us that the killer “freely chose” to kill; and could “just as easily have chosen not to.” But they also told us that the killer has to be confined (or destroyed) to prevent him from “killing again,” and that he was never really good before he killed, but was probably “evil all the time.” Now, you can’t have it both ways. If a person has a built-in predisposition to kill, then it’s not freely chosen, and if it is freely chosen, then we’re all potential murderers, and should all be behind bars for general safety. Free will is functionally identical to randomness, since the alternative is predictability, which is not free. The solution to the murderer’s-free-will conundrum, of course, is simple: There probably isn’t really such a thing as metaphysically “free” will — the concept of free will is a useful description of how one part of the brain adjudicates signals from other parts of the brain — but that’s not a reason to set convicted killers loose or “let them off the hook” at their original trials. Until we know how to treat their condition, they do have to be confined, if only to keep the productive, creative, technological advancement of society from being massively sabotaged.

Most people believe in free will because of an experience like this:

Joe: You’re preprogrammed to prefer chocolate over strawberry. You don’t have free will in the matter.
Kevin: Sure I do. Watch. (proceeds to purchase a strawberry ice cream cone and eat it) See — I was going to buy my usual chocolate, but I used my free will to choose strawberry instead.

Kevin thinks this event demonstrates that he has free will, but it really shows the opposite. Kevin was going to buy chocolate, and will probably buy chocolate next time, but this time he bought strawberry — not because he “freely chose” it, but because he was externally influenced by Joe’s challenge. If Joe now challenges Kevin to eat strawberry from now on, for the rest of his life, Kevin will probably decline to do so (even while insisting that his refusal proves nothing about free will).

The same lesson applies even if the influencer also believes in free will. For example:

Cindy: C’mon, Dawn. You don’t have to eat chocolate every time. Exercise your free will; have strawberry this time.
Dawn: OK, Carol, I will. (purchases a strawberry ice cream cone)

Cindy thinks she has gotten Dawn to use her “free will,” but in fact, Dawn bought strawberry not because she freely chose it, but because Cindy influenced her to make that choice. Telling people that they should exercise free will (in a certain direction, of course) is an exercise in determinism.

Appearances of truly, metaphysically free will are simply results of the fact that our usual modes of behavior can be modified by exceptional circumstances (as with Kevin running into Joe’s strawberry challenge). Although doubtlessly there are some rare individuals born with an intense, innate yearning to kill, most murderers, I think, carry only relatively common genetic predispositions towards killing, and wind up actually doing it because they get pushed too far by their circumstances. How often, we may wonder, does an individual come very close to carrying out an act of mass murder and then, as his circumstances happened to ease, changes his mind and decides not to? — and then goes on to live a reasonably normal, productive life? The average person might recoil in disgust at the thought that such an occurrence is frequent, but the experts on violence prediction take the idea very seriously. Consider this conversation from A&E’s Columbine: Understanding Why,21 in which Park Dietz’s TAG (Threat Assessment Group) studies the case of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two teenage boys who on April 20, 1999 fatally shot a teacher and thirteen fellow students before killing themselves (and would have easily killed hundreds more if their powerful propane bombs had successfully detonated):

BILL CURTIS (NARRATOR): After their week in Littleton, the Threat Assessment Group needs to digest the overwhelming amount of information collected during their psychiatric autopsy of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, including the confirmation by another friend that Eric knew about not being accepted by the Marines well before April 20th.

PARK DIETZ: That loss is big — that’s the loss of all his hopes and dreams.

STEVEN PITT: But do you really think that if he didn’t get that rejection, and got accepted, that this would’ve never happened?

PARK DIETZ: Sure. It’s the difference between Plan A and Plan B.

STEVEN PITT: So you think that all the bombs, all the explosives, all the planning — they would have just discarded it, detonated it somewhere else, and moved on?

PARK DIETZ: Happens every day. Every day people are ready to do a crime, and then something good happens, and they don’t.

Even those who have actually murdered can decide to pack up their murder kit and retire to a normal life, or one of less extreme crime, as described by criminal profiler Pat Brown:

Can a serial killer just stop killing? You bet. Contrary to the notion that a serial killer will keep killing until he is physically unable to because of health, age or imprisonment, serial killers can just stop. And some do.

Like the pornography he started out with, sometimes even killing gets boring, or seems to risky to do anymore since the police (or his wife) look like they might be catching on. —Killing For Sport, p. 175

Dennis Rader, the BTK killer of Wichita, Kansas, certainly fits into this category. If he hadn’t gotten cocky and started sending new letters to the police after decades of silence, it is unlikely he ever would have been caught.

— • —

The Murder-Suicide Relationship

Let’s make a simple list of the four types of unnatural death, starting with the most incensing — the type that most outrages the public; that it wants the government to do something about — and proceeding to the least incensing. (I assume that most reasonable persons would agree with this ordering, as a from-the-hip assessment of the general, popular mood.)


Now, let’s break each category down into subtypes, again listing the more incensing subtypes first:


mass murder
ordinary murder


heart disease
other diseases


drunk driving
other accidents


teen suicide
adult suicide

Notice that there are anomalies regarding the position of types in the list versus their statistical frequency throughout the U.S.:
• Disease and accident each kills far more than murder, but murder is higher on the list.
• Victims of ordinary murder outnumber victims of mass murder by a very large factor — perhaps around a thousand to one — yet mass murder is higher on the list.
• Suicide occurs more frequently than murder — about 1.5 to 1 — yet suicide occupies the bottom position on the list, and murder the top.
• Adult suicide is more common than teen suicide, yet teen suicide is more incensing.

These anomalies all can be explained in terms of the degree of control which typical adult citizens feel they have over any particular type of unnatural death:

• Murder is perceived as very uncontrollable, and as the type of death which offers the least chance of avoidance.
• When the typical citizen hears about an ordinary murder, he feels that he has at least some ability to avoid a similar fate, by being aware of who might want to kill him, by avoiding bad parts of town, etc. But when he hears about someone gunning down a dozen lunchers at a McDonald’s restaurant or in a Luby’s cafeteria, he feels totally vulnerable.
• Disease can strike anyone, but at least there is usually time to go to the hospital and have legions of doctors use advanced medical techniques to fight for your life.
• Accident is perceived as less random than disease, because the citizen typically feels he can be careful and probably avoid fatal accidents.
• Suicide comes in last, because the citizen feels he has full control over whether or not he suicides.
• Teen suicide is more incensing than adult suicide because the typical adult feels he has much less control over whether his own teenage children suicide, than over whether he himself suicides. Also, it is generally felt that teen suicide is a rash, impulsive decision by an immature person who needed to wait for her post-teen years before drawing any conclusions about how her life was really going to be. But adult suicide is quietly understood to be a more sensible phenomenon. In some countries, like Japan, adult suicide by persons unwilling or unable to fit productively into society is openly considered honorable, whereas in the U.S. such feelings are largely unspoken but still present. When we hear about an adult suicide, we quietly think to ourselves, “If that guy hadn’t figured out how to live productively by now, then maybe it’s just as well that he ended it. Maybe we’re all a bit safer without him in the picture.” Society tends to view adult suicide as a non-problem, or as a self-solving problem.

Many murders, especially mass murders, are actually expanded suicides. The murderer has reached a state where he finds that his life is no longer worth living. Some people would suicide at that point, but this particular person does not. Instead, he realizes that being in a position of having nothing to lose is a position of power, and so he can now murder with impunity. (Of course, he may still take precautions against capture, but this is simply so that he can continue to murder, or perhaps because his life will become livable again after certain persons have been murdered.) In the case of a serial killer, like Ted Bundy or Jeff Dahmer, the killing provides him with a new reason to live, so the suicide never occurs, or occurs only after capture — Bundy deliberately sabotaged his defense team’s easy opportunities to get him out of a death sentence, and Dahmer intentionally and unnecessarily exposed himself to the general prison population, perhaps in order to be killed (which he was).

In the case of a mass murder/suicide, like George Hennard (the Texas Luby’s gunman), or Columbine’s Eric Harris, the killer intends to die on that particular occasion; so why does he want to take out so many people with him? In years past, many who suicided did so with the belief that their deaths would be so shocking that they would force society to reassess its policies and systems, on the grounds that this cannot be allowed to happen again. But in today’s atmosphere of modern communications, that view is easily seen to be completely naïve. Hennard and Harris knew this, and so they sought to project their deaths all the way up the list, from least-incensing (suicide) to most-incensing (mass murder). In effect, their actions say to society, “This is what happens when someone is so miserable that he doesn’t care to continue living. You may not care about suicide, but you do care about this. When you get tired of mass murder, then you can start taking seriously the problem of suicidal misery.”

We do a lot of research talking to serial killers . . . all of them, always have told us, that “I should have been caught before — someone should have said something.” —FBI agent Bill Hagmeier22

It is worth noting that the typical mass-murderer does not expect society to hand him success on a silver platter — rather, he expects his condition to be recognized as a serious problem, just as murder and disease are, and to be investigated at a genetic and/or socialization level. Some suicidal mass killers who survived, such as Luke Woodham, told later of their strong feelings that “somebody needed to stop me.” As thoughts of mass-murder grow in his head, the individual begins to wonder why no one is noticing the obvious signs that his life isn’t working out; why no one is trying to thwart his plan. When he realizes that no one cares, or even takes the danger seriously, then he feels virtually invited, or dared by society to go through with it. Ted Kaczynski, the long-hunted math genius known only as the “Unabomber” until his capture, gave himself away with a lengthy manifesto in which he explained the reasons for his bombing spree that killed or maimed several persons. Taken at face value the manifesto is a tirade against technology, and a call for people to sabotage technological advance (with bombing sprees and the like). But look at Kaczynski’s dysfunctional, personal history, read between the lines a little bit, and it isn’t hard to see another message: A society that refuses to recognize individual misery, and its potential to lash out violently, is a society that will experience periodic lashing out.

Newport Beach, Calif., forensic psychiatrist Park Elliott Dietz has shown that most mass murders (defined by the FBI as “a homicide involving four or more victims in one location and within one event”) are committed by the depressed and the paranoid, who see themselves as agents, even heroes, of retribution, angrily lashing out at a world they fear and hate. —Stephen Michaud, “To Have and To Kill”

— • —

Most folks couldn’t figger just-a why he did it
And them that could would not admit it
There’s still a lot of Eagle Scouts around

“The Ballad of Charles Whitman” — Kinky Friedman

What makes a person suicidal? Surely there is a strong genetic component. But even given that, it seems that social circumstances play another large part in the production. Doubtlessly, the most common set of circumstances that bring on a suicidal state are those that lead to dashed expectations. The typical scenario is that the mass murderer became suicidal because he developed high expectations of what he was going to achieve in life, then had those expectations abruptly dashed. (This may explain why American mass killers were, for a time, almost exclusively white: Being a member of a socially dominating race could be a contributing factor in building an individual’s anticipation of success.) A few prominent examples illustrate how the process works:

• Ted Bundy had high expectations of becoming a successful lawyer and politician. These aspirations were strongly reinforced by his senior friends in politics and journalism, who assured him that he would be the next “JFK.” Then, after having a very rough time getting accepted to law school, he did very poorly in his first semester (fall 1973), and realized that he was never going to be a successful lawyer. His killing spree began in January of ’74. Bundy had an affinity for violent pornography long before his law school disaster, but it is very possible that this affinity would never have turned into a murder spree had Bundy’s professional aspirations not crashed. (Such pornography would not be available if a large number of non-killers did not consume it.)
• Tim McVeigh had high expectations of becoming a Green Beret military commando. He performed extraordinarily well in the Army, and in the Persian Gulf War received a medal for “flawless devotion to duty.” He was considered responsible for getting his unit selected to personally protect General Swarzkopf, the top commander of the American forces in the war. All of this convinced McVeigh that he was a shoo-in for the Special Forces program. But then he failed the physical to get into the program — McVeigh had a naturally thin, lanky build, and despite his years in the army, he just wasn’t really Special Forces material. McVeigh degenerated, jobless, over the next few years, writing about the possibility of suicide in letters to his sister, and becoming increasingly obsessed with antigovernment philosophies. He then blew up 168 people in the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. The bombing was inspired by The Turner Diaries, and also was a reaction to the Waco, Texas fiasco in which over eighty Branch Davidians died, but despite those factors it is still fairly obvious that McVeigh would not have performed the bombing if he had not been let down so heavily by his Special Forces rejection.
• George Hennard, the son of a wealthy doctor, felt that his unspectacular but satisfying career as a Merchant Marine was secure, since he had been in it for years. Then, he was found in possession of a single marijuana cigarette, and was permanently ejected from the Merchant Marine as part of the latest “get tough on drugs” federal policy. Hennard spent two years futily appealing the authorities for a second chance to sail, and becoming increasingly bitter and hostile towards his fellow man. Then he gunned down 22 lunchers at a Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, shouting “Is it worth it?” before using his last bullet on himself.
• At age eleven, Charles Whitman was the youngest in the history of the Boy Scouts to attain the level of Eagle Scout. His family always had high expectations of him, and he had virtually never gotten anything less than an “A” in school. While attending the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1960s, he lost focus and saw his grades slip into the “B” and “C” range. Unable to face living an average life, Whitman killed his wife and mother, then commandeered the observation deck at the top of the Texas Tower that overlooks the entire campus and the city of Austin. There, he used his skills with a rifle to knock off 14 people, including students, police, and bystanders, before engineering a “suicide by cop” when his makeshift barricade was broken down.

Again, it should be emphasized: There is no suggestion here that individuals such as these be handed success by the government; surely that is not feasible. Nor am I suggesting that individuals be protected from dashed expectations by a government program to ensure they are taught realistic expectations, even though such a program might be feasible. All I’m suggesting is that individuals such as these be detected before they strike, which is not only feasible, but imperative.

Absolute Value

Slower, but similar in nature to dashed expectations, is the phenomenon of chronic inadequacy. In this scenario, the mass murderer has experienced a life of chronic, lifetime failure and ineffectualness. This person has never really considered himself a vested member of society, and so views the people around him as members of a foreign nation, or perhaps an alien species. Two examples:

• James Huberty, a 41-year-old Vietnam vet, had experienced ongoing employment problems for years, and now was facing late middle age as an inadequate failure. In mid-July of 1984 he opened fire at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California, killing 21 people before police snipers took him out.
• Jeff Dahmer was a reclusive, alcoholic burnout from his teens onward, and wound up performing manual labor in a chocolate factory in Milwaukee. His fantasy of owning a male sex zombie took over his life, and blossomed into a gruesome killing spree in which over a dozen men lost their lives. The chronically inadequate person feels that his life is amounting to a big nothing, and simply wants to do something that matters. If we think of the scale of productivity as being analogous to the real-number line, it seems that people should prefer zero productivity over destructiveness. (See Figure 3-4.) But the correct analogy is to the complex number plane (Figure 3-5), in which a negative number is just another direction on a continuum of different directions a person could act. The inadequate person seeks to get off of zero (the origin) — like a person who has been stuck for a long time in a sailboat with no wind, who just wants to get moving in any direction as opposed to sitting indefinitely in the middle of the lake. For this person, to stay on zero is to be a big nothing; like never having been born at all.

Long-term inadequacy is substantially different than dashed expectations in terms of how it can be used as a population filter, and how it might be possible to detect an impending strike. But the mechanics of that can be worked out — if the public is willing. Is it?

Suppose, hypothetically, that an individual — let’s call him Jack Jones — makes elaborate physical preparations to carry out a Tim-McVeigh-style attack. But then, as Park Dietz described above, Jones changes his mind, dismantles his preparations, and goes on to live a normal, successful life. Today, ten years have passed since Jones decided not to be a bomber, and he has a productive career, a wife and one or more children. Now suppose that topnotch FBI agent David Daniels finds out about Jones’s planned attack of ten years ago, and can probably prove it in court. What will Agent Daniels do? Of course, he will inform his superiors and get Jones arrested and prosecuted.

Now let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose Agent Daniels finds out about Jones’s planned assault of ten years ago, but can’t prove anything in court. All Daniels can do is talk briefly with Jones and offer some advice about what to do. What will Agent Daniels say? Will he encourage Jones to turn himself in and spend years in prison, followed by a lifetime stigmatized as a terrorist? Or will he encourage Jones to continue his productive career and family life? Now the answer isn’t so clear, and the latter seems much more likely. What this discrepancy illustrates is that there are two very different ways of analyzing the same individual, depending on what approach you plan to take with him. When you are giving him advice, his own “freedom to choose” is paramount, and of course the best thing he can do for his family and for his society is to continue his job and his productive relationships, and keep his would-be terrorist phase permanently in the past. But when you are deciding whether to prosecute, Jones’s “free will” gets short shrift, and population statistics take over, determining that it is simply not a good risk to let Jones roam free in society, even if he has been a good boy lately.

So, our government’s policy toward individually perpetrated mass violence can give some recognition to free will while still largely operating on deterministic premises. In other words, we can filter the population for impending problem cases, while still encouraging everyone to choose non-destruction. That has always been society’s policy anyway: We lock up anyone we are convinced is dangerous, while simultaneously telling everyone that they can and should choose not to murder — i.e. issuing them the strawberry challenge described earlier in this chapter.

And how can we encourage people not to murder? The religious strategy has been very effective in the past, but in today’s modern climate it is ineffective. Advanced communications have made it easy for most people to see just how many wildly differing religions there are in the world (and have been), and modern behavioral research into the efficacy of negative reinforcement has cast serious doubts on the rationality of throwing people into hell only at the end of their lives, with no chance to learn from the punishment, nor warn others of it. Today’s crime fighters realize that the religious approach is no longer viable, and find themselves forced to resorting to petty word games in a desperate attempt to discourage murder. Thus we see laudable and highly intelligent crime fighters such as John Walsh and John Douglas using the words “coward” and “cowardly” to describe nearly every criminal they discuss. What if most unsolved murders are performed by persons of at least average intelligence, with the mental faculties to know that “cowardly” means “unwilling to take risks to achieve one’s goals?” With the brains to know that it is foolish, not brave, to take on an army of police instead of a more realistic target? Since it is fairly obvious that watching TV all night, munching on a bag of Cheetos, is much less risky than going out murdering, I can only doubt that any significant percentage of murderers will be discouraged this way. Even a Christian, Reagan-administration conservative like D’Souza, in a post-September-Eleventh book extolling the qualities of the USA, can agree:

The reasoning [behind calling the 9-11 terrorists “cowards”] is that [they] cravenly targeted women and children. But of course the terrorists did no such thing. They didn’t really care who was on the hijacked planes or in the World Trade Center. As it happened, most of their victims were men. ... Usually we consider people who pick on women and children cowardly because they are trying to avoid harm to themselves. But in this case the terrorists went to their deaths with certainty and apparent equanimity. Like the Japanese kamikazes, the terrorists were certainly fanatical, but cowards they were not. —What’s So Great About America, pp. 5-6

It is not unlike society’s refusal to use the word “suicide” as a verb (as I use it throughout this book), instead insisting that we attach the word “commit” to every usage, thinking that we will somehow improve the lives of the suicidal by dogmatically stating over and over that the act is criminal.

Today, talking the general population out of murder is either impossible or will require some acknowledgment of the lightness of the situation; i.e. “Why take all the risks associated with murder, when there are so many other enjoyable and even thrilling pursuits that are far less risky?” That approach doesn’t sit well with people who are convinced that murder is an issue of extreme moral gravity, so I don’t expect to see it in use anytime soon.

Big transitions in how society works are often tumultuous, and as human society makes the transition depicted in Figure 3-3, enduring a period of mass-murder may simply be an inevitable, and even necessary, trial. We can see the same phenomenon at work in other transitions: Modern capitalism is a great improvement over kingdoms and feudalism, but the advent of capitalism generated the backlash of communism, which was an immense social disaster, and taught us that capitalism needs to be moderated somewhat to attenuate revolutionary backlash. Modern, processed foods have made starvation almost a thing of the past (at least in the modern parts of the world), but brought in a wave of tooth decay that spurred the advancement of modern dentistry. Disturbing though it may be to many, mass-murderers actually serve a role in the advancement of society. They give us the level of desire needed to overcome cherished myths and to aggressively pursue a serious system of violence regulation. And such a system may prove useful for stopping violence in general; far more than that which the mass-murderers were going to carry out.

— • —

They think that your early ending was all wrong
For the most part they’re right
But look how they all got strong

“Hey Man Nice Shot” — Filter

The Lesson of September Eleventh

The U.S. has obviously figured out the right way to run a nation internally (for the most part). But it is still learning when it comes to foreign policy. For a long time, the U.S. has considered itself too noble to force modernity on backward, messed-up nations. Our policy has been to let them wallow in their own misery until they realize that they need to adopt the ways of America. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if backward, messed-up nations simply grow more and more enraged at their plight, and eventually explode in violence? The lesson of September Eleventh is that as the world’s lone megapower, the U.S. cannot sit by and ignore miserable, dysfunctional nations as if they are not a problem (any more than our society can afford to ignore suicidally miserable individuals). Perhaps the U.S. does not have the power to convert every one of those nations into modern success stories, but at the least we should be monitoring them closely, and taking appropriate military action whenever we see signs that a nation is fomenting terrorism.

On the third anniversary of September Eleventh, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech that included the following analysis of the terrorists’ motives:

It’s common to hear that the taking of life was senseless. But those who inflicted this suffering had a sinister logic. They believed that by killing thousands of our citizens that they could frighten and intimidate our country, our people — that they could shake the trust we have in each other, and that they could weaken the glue that holds our society together. They wanted America to retreat from the world so that they could impose their ideology of oppression and hatred. They thought they could strike us with impunity, and that we would acquiesce. That the American soldier and the American people themselves were, in the words of one of their leaders, “a paper tiger.”

Rumsfeld’s analysis is almost on the money. The terrorists think of the U.S. as a “paper tiger” not in error, but because, in our pursuit of the spread of democracy and the end of theocracy, we have been a paper tiger. For many decades now, the U.S. has had the way, but not the will, to make solid if not spectacular advances of democracy over theocracy and dictatorship. A flesh-and-blood tiger with real teeth and claws, but with a brain unwilling to use them, is about as effectual as a tiger made of paper. If the terrorists really thought that the U.S. would retreat from the world after September Eleventh, then they were sorely mistaken, as Rumsfeld correctly points out. But with only a minor tweak, their “sinister logic” makes eminent sense: “If you’re going to beat our theocracy, do it — but don’t leave us indefinitely in this pathetic mode of theocratic failure. Perhaps you need a little encouragement?”

Greene’s Law #15 (The 48 Laws of Power), “Crush Your Enemy Totally” warns us that an imperfectly conquered foe is far more dangerous than a never-challenged one because, like a wounded animal, such a foe has every reason to attack you by any means available, and no reason not to. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), (each with related offshoots) are both well-known terrorist organizations, that have carried out bombings and shootings against civilian and nonmilitary government targets for more than thirty years. Though from different parts of the world, these two causes can teach us a lot about how to predict an outbreak of similar violence.

The IRA and the PLO both were born out of a dispute over land ownership by peoples with very different religious background. The IRA is Catholic, and wars against Britain, which is Protestant. Similarly, the PLO is Muslim, and battles against Israel, which is Jewish. In both conflicts, the religions are sufficiently different to cast a shadow over the possibility of living happily under one system of law and one shared national culture. The IRA and the PLO each represent the losing side of their respective conflicts. Britain rules Northern Ireland handily, and likewise Israel rules the land that the PLO seeks to one day control. Neither the IRA nor the PLO seems to have even a slim chance to ever win their respective wars. But both the IRA and the PLO are determined to continue the violence — as a matter of moral obligation.

Another strong parallel can be found in the fact that in both cases, the victorious force is not willing to completely destroy or exile the conquered, but neither does it give them full citizenship under the law. The British could have drawn the border of Northern Ireland to include almost exclusively Protestants, but instead engineered a slim Protestant majority — a move that ensnared as many Catholics as possible, but not enough to ever win a local election (not to mention a national one). Many Catholics view the Northern Ireland elections a sham and don’t even go to the polls. Likewise, Israel allows Palestinians to live or work within its borders in large numbers, but grants easy citizenship — and the rights that go along with it — only to Jews and children of current citizens. In particular, it is difficult for Palestinians to obtain the rights of citizenship, even if they work in Israel on a daily basis.

Both the British and Israeli governments have expended enormous resources trying to track down and kill or capture the bombers, but in both struggles, new terrorists seem to materialize as fast as the existing ones can be caught.

From the examples of the IRA and the PLO, we can surmise that anywhere in the world a conquered group of people, with a shared culture, is kept in a limbo- like captivity — not obliterated, not expelled, and not absorbed into full citizenship — there will be a perpetual, festering violence against the citizens of the victorious people, that the government cannot effectively quell. All nations of the world are well-advised to avoid this situation, or risk suffering for decades alongside the peoples of Northern Ireland and Israel.

You cannot defeat an enemy and at the same time believe that you’re too noble to complete that defeat. Completion comes in one of three forms:

a. destroying the conquered people completely, down to the last individual,
b. exiling the conquered people so that they must find their own way in another part of the world, or
c. absorbing the conquered people into your own population as full citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizen

If you are unwilling or unable to do any of the three options listed above, expect severe social problems that just don’t know when to quit, as enjoyed by the Brits and the Israelis.

The Treaty of Versailles is another splendid example of this phenomenon. After World War I, the allies decided that the people of Germany should be punished by being made to paying an enormous “war debt” to compensate for the damage caused by the war. Even while Germany fell badly behind on the payments, the huge amount they were managing to pay was driving the entire German population into desperate poverty. Soon, many Germans were ready to vote for anyone who would lash out violently against the world. Hitler was simply in the right place at the right time. (Note that he had many top-level henchman who could have easily taken his place.) If you find this analysis distasteful — preferring to believe, perhaps, that Hitler hypnotized the masses into a violent state — just remember that after experiencing Hitler’s Nazism, the allies agreed completely with what I am saying here. After World War II, there was no attempt to reestablish the WWI war-debt payments. There was no attempt to extract an even larger debt for WWII — even though the German people were much more directly culpable for it. And no attempt was made to extract similar debts from Italy or Japan. Instead, the allies gave immense sums of money to help rebuild those nations and set them back on course as autonomous, member nations in the global economy. So whether they verbally admitted it or not, it’s obvious that the allies realized Versailles to have been a colossal mistake, not to be repeated. Holding a population in a limbo of endless hopelessness is, in effect, to create a population of James Hubertys.

The Versailles treaty was a disaster simply because it badly interfered with the everyday, normal desires of large percentages of the population. The modern “war on drugs” is a similar fiasco. In Drug Crazy, Mike Gray describes in delicious detail the mind-boggling mayhem generated by trying to keep Joe Drug- user from getting his hit of coke, and shows it to be almost identical in nature to the chaos caused by alcohol prohibition in the early twentieth century. It raises an interesting question: What will people do to get their beer? Do they care more about their beer than about preventing the destruction of democratic institutions? Yes, they do. The logic is simple: I’m not hurting anyone by enjoying a beer or two, so if you want to take the beer profits away from a reasonable corporation like Miller and hand them over to a psychotic tough like Al Capone, why should I feel guilty that you are now struggling mightily against Scarface Al and his band of extremely well-funded thugs? Perhaps it’s time to rethink your policy.

The reasoning is quite similar with individually perpetrated mass murder. Persons who are chronically miserable tend to be unconcerned with lofty, noble ideas of justice and peace, and are generally willing to lash out any way they can to make a point.

— • —

How is Sharon Rocha’s rage against Scott Peterson different from, say, George Hennard’s rage at being forced to live a failed life? The comparison is bound to provoke severe indignation. (Watch for me to be compared to professor Ward Churchill who was widely interpreted as having likened September Eleventh victims to Nazis.) Obviously, the public senses a tangible difference between Sharon’s rage and George’s, but how is that difference precisely defined? The only actual difference is this: To kill or exile the Scott Petersons of this world is immediately beneficial to the safety and productivity of most members of human society, whereas to kill random persons lunching at Luby’s is not. The emotion of rage is fundamentally the same — “my life is horribly damaged and I derive satisfaction from delivering payback for that” — but the effect on society is fundamentally different. That is why we, as a society, enthusiastically support Rocha’s rage against Scott, but not Hennard’s rage against Bell County, Texas.

It is obvious what form our support of Rocha’s rage takes: We happily send Scott Peterson off to a prison to be warehoused until he dies, or until the California appellate courts permit him to be put to sleep. But it’s not so obvious what form our nonsupport of Hennard’s rage should take. We can’t punish him for his massacre, since he used his last bullet on himself (and his willingness to do so means that he didn’t care about throwing away the rest of his life anyway). So what do we do? Do we ignore him? We could deny him reentry to the Merchant Marine, but again, he’s dead, and we were already denying him reentry before he shot up the Luby’s. Do we stick our heads in the sand like ostriches and hope the problem just goes away on its own?

The appropriate action to take against Hennard, as discussed earlier, is to start a serious program of detecting and preventing him and others like him: A more advanced version of the MATRIX program, designed to identify any individual threat of mass violence. And now we get to the big sticking point: Creating such a program may be what Hennard wanted us to do. If of even average intelligence, Hennard knew that society can’t make special exceptions to drug laws just for the potentially suicidally violent — but it can take such dangerous persons seriously, and act to preempt them. Hennard’s spree serves the function of providing society with a strong incentive to do something about this problem, and Hen- nard may have, at some level, known it. He could have killed family members, coworkers, or even next-door neighbors, but instead he drove fifteen miles to Killeen, to kill utterly random victims at a Luby’s, presumably to ensure that no one in the entire nation could feel safe, and thus fail to get the message.

Remember, the point is not to do the opposite of whatever Hennard wanted us to do, in order to spite him. He’s dead, after all. The point is to do whatever will protect society from such attacks, and if that’s what Hennard was trying to provoke us into doing, so what? If that doesn’t sit well with you, if you find it too hard to swallow that Hennard’s act may be beneficial to society in the long run, and on the basis of that revulsion you oppose a program to detect potential mass-murderers, then you are simply assigning your pride and your anger a greater priority than the lives of countless, future, killing-spree victims. Whether we like it or not, the Hennards of this world can force us to choose either to let them continue their mayhem unabated, or to implicitly acknowledge that their acts serve a purpose in the grand scheme. If Hitler taught us not to repeat Versailles, if Stalin taught us not to think we can disregard a fundamental human motive such as comparative satisfaction (more about that in chapter six), and if the PLO and the IRA taught us not to keep a people in a futureless limbo — then surely Hennard with his mere twenty-two victims can teach us that suicide should no longer be considered a non-problem or a self-solving problem.

Treating the very real problem of walking time-bombs seriously doesn’t have to mean supernatural mind-reading, or even mildly complex analysis. Take the case of Kim Dae-han, a middle-aged citizen of South Korea. Kim had a history of mental problems, and had openly threatened to burn down a hospital. Then, on February 19, 2003, he set fire to a train at a subway platform, causing over 120 persons to burn to death, and over fifty more to be seriously injured. Firefighters described the scene as a vision of hell, with many of the bodies reduced to barely recognizable piles of ash and bone. Now ask yourself this simple question, out loud: “How many otherwise normal, productive citizens do I personally know who have threatened to burn down a large, public, constantly occupied building, such as a hospital?” Like mine, your answer is probably “Zero.” Persons who make such a threat, even once, need to be permanently confined for public safety. It’s not exactly MATRIX, but it’s a start. Before you knock MATRIX as infeasible or dangerous, you first need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are willing to permanently institutionalize a person for making an arson threat against a hospital. If you aren’t, then that’s your real opposition to MATRIX right there — an unreasonable reluctance to protect the public from obvious threats.

Did you pass that test? Now try this one on for size: John Doe walks into an office of the FBI and announces that he would like to volunteer for execution. His life, Doe explains, has been an unending series of disappointments and failures, and he has grown both tired of trying, and uninspired by the statistical odds of future success. He figures that since he paid taxes all those years that he was vainly trying to achieve the American dream — the same taxes that other people paid who did find a modicum of success and fulfillment — then the federal government owes him a lethal injection. He is owed the implied respect for his decision that comes along with having it carried out by that government. What would you do in the government’s place? For what policy on this question would you vote? Keep in mind that as long as people are being executed in the federal injection chamber, Doe can sign up. It’s just a question of what we require him to do to get on the list. If merely asking to get on the list doesn’t qualify him, then Doe simply has to do whatever the law says he has to do in order to qualify. (And to avoid the possibility of winding up in a padded, mental institution, Doe probably will need to make sure that his qualifying act is particularly heinous, so that every decision-making official involved in his case will loath the possibility of an insanity finding.)

It’s not just a hypothetical scenario. Consider the case of William Griffin, a middle-aged native of Rochester, New York who suffered from serious psychoses. One summer day in 1981, Griffin entered a nearby bank with a shotgun and, after shooting at several persons, took nine bank employees hostage. The FBI surrounded the building and eventually got Griffin on the phone to ask his demands. He had only one: that the feds enter the bank and kill him. They refused, so he gave them until 3:00 P.M. to comply with his sole demand. When the deadline arrived with no federal action, Griffin brought a young, female teller (and single mother) up to the window, cut her in half with two shotgun blasts, then walked into the open where the snipers could take him out. An innocent bank teller died that day so that our society could continue to believe that suicidal misery is a non-problem — or a self-solving problem. Griffin gave the authorities every chance to change their minds about that, but in the end it took a butchered bank teller to persuade us to give him the simple, state-sponsored execution he wanted.

We have a time-honored policy of “never giving-in to terrorists.” And this policy certainly makes sense when dealing with such threats as “give me $1,000,000 or else.” That contingency is utterly arbitrary, and relenting to such a demand would go a long way to encouraging similar demands — many of them from bluffers who have no intention of carrying out the “or else” if they aren’t paid off. But what about “legally execute me or else” — is that an arbitrary contingency? Not exactly. Anyone who demands to be killed does not have a vested interest in his own life, and so is free to carry out terrorist attacks without concern for society’s penalties. The contingency is even less arbitrary if the demand is “fix my sociopathic DNA or else,” or “take heed of my sociopathic tendencies and the severe disappointments that have plagued my life, or else.” Then, it makes no sense to “never give in” — the connection between the demand and the threat is non-arbitrary to the point of being almost deterministic. It’s like saying “never give in to fire’s threat to burn you if you touch it.”

For decades the British refused any concession to the demands of the IRA, failing to recognize that meeting some of those demands might actually undermine the IRA’s power base. Compare to the case of Apple Computer — when Steve Jobs began major concessions to compatibility with the Windows world, such as iTunes For Windows and a multi-button mouse, some felt he was throwing in the towel, conceding defeat, and admitting that everyone should just go with Microsoft. But in fact, Jobs’s strategy was not to arbitrarily make the Mac more like Windows in a few random ways, in the hopes of attracting more Windows users. Rather, he carefully selected which concessions should be made and which should not, with the aim of removing major barriers to Mac acceptance while simultaneously preserving the most important features of the Mac that make it a more desirable alternative to a Windows PC. And the British government could have ended “The Troubles” long before the turn of the millennium if they had merely adjusted the border to make Northern Ireland an exclusively British Protestant realm. It wouldn’t be everything the IRA wanted, by far, but it would have utterly decimated the IRA’s popular support among Irish Catholics.

The point of MATRIX is to make just such a pragmatic concession to individually perpetrated terrorism. We’re not going to give the murder-spree guys anything they want, but neither are we going to nobly stick our ostrich heads in the sand and insist that nothing need be done until after each massacre happens. What would an advanced version of MATRIX look for in individuals (besides critical DNA markers, once they are identified)? I suggest the following:

1. lack of abhorrence of murder — The individual is not repulsed by the idea of murder, and thinks of it as an exciting sport.
2. denial of failure — The individual refuses to admit when he has failed at a task.23
2a. forced task — If required by rules to attempt a task, upon failing the task the individual’s attitude will be, “It’s no big deal; I didn’t want to do that anyway. I wasn’t really trying.” The individual learns nothing from the failure, because he shuts the whole thing from his mind as an irrelevant inconvenience of involuntary activity.
2b. chosen task — If this individual truly wants, of his own volition, to attempt and succeed at a particular goal, failure will be treated as a terrible disaster. Then he will try again, with no analysis of why failure occurred or what change in approach might be indicated. These reattempts without analysis will continue until they are socially blocked, or until accumulated misery drains his will to continue. Either way, he then becomes very bitter and starts believing that he lives in a seriously flawed society.
3. interest in suicide or murder — The individual begins showing positive views towards suicide and mass-murder.

And of course, any open request to be executed (or threat to conduct mayhem), should be taken with the utmost seriousness — more so than we currently treat a joke about a bomb on a passenger jet. A person who requests execution perhaps should be required to discuss the matter with a sympathetic professional before making his final decision, but after that the execution should be conducted. Swallowing our pride in this matter — i.e. “We don’t execute people upon their request. We just don’t do that!” — is a small price to pay for the safe removal of unstable individuals from our society.

— • —

Group Misery

The cause of the PLO, of course, is just a smaller case of the more general cause of Islamist terrorists. Most Islamic states hate the U.S. to the point of calling it the “Great Satan.” And why — because we support Israel? That’s certainly part of it. But the larger part is simply that they see their way of life being slowly destroyed by the inexorable advance of western, democratic capitalism. The U.S. support of Israel is just an example of that process: For the past few decades, Israel has been the only democracy in the region.

Should the U.S. abandon its support for Israel in an attempt to appease the terrorists? Of course not. The problem isn’t that we helped to create Israel and now give it ongoing support; it’s that we haven’t been aggressive enough in continuing that spread of democracy. The democratic west established the democratic state of Israel in 1948 and then just stopped. The recent takeovers of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the still-ongoing establishment of democracies there, is the first big step towards democratizing that region since the creation of Israel almost half a century ago. It should be small wonder that the region has fomented terrorism all this time — it’s just another case of refusing to complete your victory in a timely manner. And what did it take to give the U.S. government the nerve to democratize Afghanistan and Iraq? September Eleventh. The demolition of the World Trade Center was, in effect, a Hennard-style demand that the plight of the Islamic middle-east be taken seriously. The message is simple: “Either defeat me or let me thrive — but don’t leave me in this bizarre, half-beaten state indefinitely. Because if you do, then I simply can do this.” Democratic, scientific capitalism, as detailed by D’Souza in What’s So Great About America, is taking over the world, with America spearheading the campaign. Victory is certain; monarchy and theocracy are practically defeated. But if we think we’re too noble to decisively finish that defeat, then we’re just playing with fire — like parents who let their child neglect chores and throw tantrums all day, thinking he’ll learn the hard way that it “doesn’t get him anywhere.” For decades we thought we were playing it safe by letting nations like Iraq stew in their own failures. We didn’t want to lose hundreds or thousands of troops in a military effort to convert those nations to democracy today. September Eleventh showed us that we can lose thousands of ordinary civilians with a strategy like that, and so it gave us the necessary resolve to act.

Living peacefully with Islamic dictatorships (or those of any other religion, for that matter), is simply not possible. It is the same lesson that the Europeans learned when they began populating the North American continent. The popular conception of what happened to the North American Indians (a.k.a. Native Americans) goes like this: For centuries, the American Indians lived a noble existence, at one with nature, and in relative peace — minor squabbles but no major wars. Meanwhile, on the European continent, a cancer-like way of life had developed in which the population burgeoned out of control, stripped the land and used it up, and fought vicious, massive wars. Soon, this virulent society exploded forth onto the North American continent. There, they found the American Indians easy prey, and slaughtered them either for sport, or to take their land. The American Indians thus became a marginalized, dispossessed, ghost people, living a meager existence on isolated government reservations. And those who disagree with this story probably believe in its most extreme opposite — that the American Indians were barbaric savages who had to be tamed by good Christian soldiers spreading the truth of Jesus. The real story, I suspect, involves no extremes of good and evil as depicted in the story above (or in its Christian-soldier opposite). What if, instead, there was just a sequence of inevitable and sometimes tragic events that could not likely have been avoided? Fly over Europe today, and you can easily see that most of the land is virtually uninhabited. It is farmed, perhaps, or at least owned, but largely devoid of humans. But today’s European population is dramatically larger than it was when Europeans were just discovering America. Therefore, overpopulation was clearly not an issue in Europe, and it could be considered heavily populated only by American Indian standards. Europeans did not explode cancer-like off of their continent — rather, they developed the technology to travel the seas, and sailed to North America simply because they could.

While Europeans were developing the technology to cross the Atlantic, what were the North American Indians doing? Long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the American Indians had, as a rule, been living with a cultural mindset of extreme tribalism. This mindset tells you, the individual, that everyone in your own, small, tribal village is to be trusted and mutually supported, whereas everyone outside the village is essentially a mortal enemy, to be distrusted and, when possible, preemptively destroyed.

This tribalism had four effects on the American Indian population:

1. Sparsely populated land. Tribal villages could not get very close to each other — maybe a few days’ hike — or else they would see the smoke from each other’s fires (or otherwise become aware of each other’s presence). Then, it was just a matter of time before one tribe would attack the other. These attacks would continue until one tribe was destroyed or driven away.

2. Small village size. Tribal villages were limited to a certain size; the size that allowed an individual to be familiar with all members of his or her tribe. If a village grew much beyond this size, the tribalism would cause a rift to develop, and the village would split into multiple tribes, which would then fight to the death, or put a good distance between each other.

3. Very slow technological advance. Steady technological progress requires a large population with a high degree of information sharing. When a new discovery is made, the knowledge spreads quickly throughout the population, and can then be the basis of further discovery by some other person in another part of the population. The North American Indians had neither a large population nor communication through that population. If a member of a tribe discovered a better way to do something, the knowledge would be limited to that one, small, tribal village. If the tribe was destroyed by another tribe, the information might be lost altogether, or at best absorbed by the destroying tribe.

4. Self-perpetuated tribalism. Extreme tribalism is self-reinforcing. Once it takes hold as it did the North American Indians, it doesn’t easily let go, and may last for many centuries until it is broken by a fluke event or by outside interference.

The American Indians were not peaceful, but in fact were quite warlike. There were no major wars simply because there were no major nations to fight; war was fought between tribal villages.

When Europeans first set foot on the continent, the American Indians were initially awed by their white skin and their horses, and considered them to be some sort of quasi-gods. The Europeans saw a virgin land with plenty of room and resources for everyone, and started setting up encampments and towns without hostility toward the nearby natives.

But soon the American Indians’ awe faded, they acquired and mastered horses, and then the Europeans were just another people to be treated as they would treat each other. To the American Indians, that meant attacking the Europeans. The American Indians attacked European encampments not to repel foreign invaders, but simply because they could. They attacked the Europeans the same way that they would attack anyone outside of their own tribal village, as they had been doing for centuries before the Europeans arrived. It didn’t take the Europeans long to realize that it wasn’t going to be possible to live peacefully within a few days hike of most American Indian tribes. The European settlers went to war with the American Indians because they had to; because it was easier than packing up and heading back to Europe.

In many ways, the Indians may have had the upper hand: They knew the land much better than the Europeans, and their bows and arrows were superior to the single-shot muskets used by the Europeans (the revolver came into heavy use later in the war). But the Indians were still doomed from the outset, because while the Europeans were at war with the American Indians, the American Indians were at war with everyone outside their own small village, including all other Indian tribes. Very late in the war, Geronimo and other Indian warriors realized that the tribes had to unite to stand a chance, and made some efforts in this direction. But by then it was too late.

The Indians who were left after the war were isolated on expansive reservations because that was the only way that they could live their tribalistic lifestyle without continued war. And the reservation land is worthless because no development takes place there; the tribe lives in simple huts as they did before the Europeans ever set foot on the continent.

Once the war against the American Indians was underway, did the Western Europeans use horrific strategies against them? Certainly. But nothing significantly more ghastly than what they did to each other just a short time later in the Civil War. The Europeans, like the American Indians, were not above torture, indiscriminate slaughter, and demonization of the enemy. The Europeans were superior simply because they lacked extreme tribalism.

Many American Indians chose to assimilate into the European population, and it is to America’s credit that they were allowed to do so. This is why America does not suffer American Indian terrorism the way Britain suffered IRA terrorism and Israel suffers Palestinian terrorism — the most disgruntled, anti-U.S. members of the tribe are the only ones still practicing the faith. An ongoing terrorist movement can survive only with a base of popular support, and when individuals of a conquered population are allowed to assimilate with full rights, the base is lost and no terrorist movement can be sustained.


Another reason that the U.S. has been reluctant to forcibly establish democracies in places like Iraq is because of the widely fielded charge that a U.S.-established democracy is not legitimate, because democracy is supposed to be chosen, not forced — choice is the essence of democracy; force is its antithesis.

The U.S. should ignore this accusation and proceed directly with Afghanistan/Iraq-style operations. The charge makes no sense. When was a democracy ever established except by undemocratic force? Never. Democracy in the U.S. wasn’t decided by popular vote; instead a small group of individuals seized control and decided for themselves what kind of government the U.S. would have. Yes, democracy is supposed to be about popular choice, but democracy is also a prerequisite for popular choice to take place. If a democracy can be legitimate only when established by the vote of the people, then all democracies are illegitimate, and indeed there will never be a legitimate one.

There is no democratic way to start a democracy. It just has to happen, by force of some kind, and then, once it’s launched, the process of popular will can begin to take effect. When the U.S. takes over a country, it usually establishes a democracy there and then leaves. After that, the outcome of elections in the new democracy may please the current leaders of the U.S., or may not please them so much. That’s democracy. The only thing that makes it “legitimate” is its strong tendency to provide its people a better life in the present, and more fruitful technological progress for the future.

Those who believe a democracy to be illegitimate if established forcefully from outside are, in a way, subscribing to the “fruit of the poison tree” philosophy of morality. According to this concept, no good can come from an impure act. One moral misstep in a causal sequence of events, and everything that follows is “tainted,” and must be rejected as illegitimate no matter how good it becomes. If you think that this idea is a bizarre, fringe view held only by extremists and perfectionists, ask yourself how most people probably react to the suggestion, earlier in this chapter, that Hennard’s Luby’s massacre might yield a long- term net good. Fruit-of-the-poison-tree is a very popular concept, subscribed to by many unquestioningly in some form or another. But it is truly an insane policy. Trace the history of any good, productive, desirable thing back in time far enough, and you are virtually certain to find some detestable, impure act in the causal chain. To embrace any good phenomenon as worthy of being enjoyed and accepted, we pretty much have to confine our condemnation of criminal acts to the immediate, localized event that needs to be condemned. In Hennard’s case, that means confining and/or destroying him (if he had failed to suicide at the end of his spree). In the case of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, it means criticizing President George W. Bush for attacking Saddam Hussein at the wrong time (sooner? later?) than perhaps he should have. But if the democracy now being established in Iraq successfully gels — embrace it. For how often do democracies get established at all? Take them when you can get them.

The desire to distinguish between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” forms of government, in some higher plane than the tendency towards national strength and prosperity, appeals even to such a practical, sensible mind as D’Souza’s:

Abraham Lincoln not only perceived the founders’ dilemma, he inherited it. The principle of popular rule is based on Jefferson’s doctrine that “all men are created equal,” yet the greatest crisis in American history arose when people denied that “all men are created equal” and in so doing denied the basis of their own legitimacy. —What’s So Great About America, p. 116

What is legitimacy? How do you measure it? By contrast, prosperity and national success are very measurable. Involuntary slavery is bad because it damages the productivity of a nation, and is thus eliminated by scientific progress, the same way use of primitive tools is eliminated by the advent of better ones. It is arguable that slavery was a necessity of primitive society, just as martial law is necessary during times of extreme social crisis. No nation abolished slavery until technology had reached the point where it was detrimental to continue it.

Also, when judging the legitimacy of a democracy, one should keep in mind that voting is, at a fundamental level, not that different from an act of force. When you cast your vote for a proposition to build a bridge in your city, what about the people who don’t want that bridge built? What about their rights? You are effectively forcing them to bend to your will (or trying to — otherwise why go vote?). Using the vote to force others to bend to your will is better than using a gun for the same purpose, but only because there’s a lot less bloodshed in the former. Voting, in effect, is an agreed-upon form of bloodless combat, in which the victors get their way, and the losers grumble but reluctantly play along with the victors’ plans. The bloodlessness is what makes it legitimate.

The idea that U.S. actions are illegitimate, and that the U.S. can cause only harm by meddling in the affairs of other nations is best expressed by a rule in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek called “the Prime Directive.” This all-important law of Starfleet said that cultures developing on other planets were to be left alone, and allowed to progress naturally. According to the Directive, nothing but harm could come from interfering with another culture’s development, no matter how well-intentioned the intervention might be. It seems likely that Roddenberry meant his Prime Directive to be a reference to the Vietnam War, or perhaps to the entire worldwide phenomenon of western-European colonialism. Star Trek always depicted the keeping of the Prime Directive as being the wise decision in hindsight — and the lesson, as applied to current events, is that the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are bad mistakes. The Prime Directive, however, is full of logical holes that were conveniently omitted from most of the plots of Star Trek. Should the Enterprise (and all other Starfleet ships) have just stayed home, and refrained from exploring the galaxy at all? That would be the surest way to keep the Prime Directive, but instead they did the exact opposite — they nosed around as much as possible. What if Klingons were making plans to aggressively take over a populated planet? Should Starfleet fight off the Klingons to keep the planet’s culture undisturbed, or should Starfleet stand back and let the Klingons attack the planet, since it’s all part of the natural development of this local part of the galaxy? What if there are two primitive cultures on a planet, and one of them is violently wiping out the other? Should Starfleet act to protect one culture from the other, or treat the entire planet as one big culture that should not be disturbed? What if one planet has just developed space flight, and is violently invading a nearby planet? Does Starfleet have the divine right to decide what is a distinct culture that needs to be protected from outside interference, and what isn’t?

These questions all lead to the biggest question the Prime Directive fails to address: Is Starfleet itself a part of the culture of the galaxy, a legitimate player on the cultural field? If not, why not? And if so, then to whom does the Prime Directive really apply? Hidden in the core of the Prime Directive is the idea that there is something fundamentally poisonous about Starfleet, and something correspondingly innocent and pure about all other cultures (particularly less powerful ones), even when they’re brutalizing their own people. Leaving the fantasy world of Star Trek, we can see that the Prime Directive was nothing but Roddenberry’s own distaste at America’s success, and his desire to encourage America to retreat from the world. Roddenberry’s motives for feeling this way probably died with him, so we can only guess at what sort of personal grudge he may have had. Nothing in his Prime Directive philosophy illuminates the issue.

When a society discovers a truly better way to function, it is inevitable that it must spread to all other nations. It can do so as an impressive, conquering wave (as it did with the Romans or British colonists) or it can creep insidiously into their cultures, fomenting the fear and hatred that leads to violence. The multiculturalists, who insist that the American way must not be foisted upon other nations, may think that September Eleventh showed how right they are. But it actually was a consequence of the multiculturalist mindset. America could not stop the spread of the “American way” (i.e. democracy, science, and capitalism) if it wanted to. But we can speed it up dramatically. By failing to do so, we have opted for a slow, festering transition that naturally breeds terrorist activity.

In orchestrating the September Eleventh attack, Osama Bin Laden probably thought he was teaching us a lesson in the consequences of outdoing Islam, but the actual lesson (useful, even if unintended) is that the U.S. cannot sit idly by while other nations suffer with severe internal problems, and assume that those peoples will “learn the hard way” to adopt a system that works — for some of those nations will instead develop by their suffering into terrorists who will attack the U.S. Instead, the U.S. must turn those nations into productive, modern, free-market democracies (if possible), or destroy them, or monitor them closely and take preventative measures when prudent. It is much the same formula as for handling domestic terrorism. Chronically miserable individuals — who can clearly see how well other people are doing, and cannot feasibly be shielded from that knowledge — should be cured if possible; otherwise confined, destroyed, or closely monitored. Ignoring them, assuming they will wither quietly away, is a mistake. The function of terrorist attacks is to force advanced societies to grow the spine necessary to forcibly spread their advanced ways to backward parts of the world.