Saturday, September 11, 2010

Engineering right wing terror

Hmm... autistic geeks fight for abstract ideas whereas empathic humanists fight to end human suffering?

NYTimes: ... In a paper published last year in The European Journal of Sociology, Gambetta and Hertog argue that the engineer-terrorist connection is part of the answer: it is a new window onto what Gambetta calls the “hidden logic” of society. Though the difference in susceptibility is very small — “it’s like saying the probability that you will be struck by lightning is one in a million,” Gambetta says, “and the probability for an engineer to be struck by lightning is four in a million” — it is, they say, real.

For their recent study, the two men collected records on 404 men who belonged to violent Islamist groups active over the past few decades (some in jail, some not). Had those groups reflected the working-age populations of their countries, engineers would have made up about 3.5 percent of the membership. Instead, nearly 20 percent of the militants had engineering degrees. When Gambetta and Hertog looked at only the militants whose education was known for certain to have gone beyond high school, close to half (44 percent) had trained in engineering. Among those with advanced degrees in the militants’ homelands, only 18 percent are engineers.

The two authors found the same high ratio of engineers in most of the 21 organizations they examined, including Jemaah Islamiya in Southeast Asia and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Middle East. Sorting the militants according to their 30 homelands showed the same pattern: engineers represented a fifth of all militants from every nation except one, and nearly half of those with advanced degrees.

One seemingly obvious explanation for the presence of engineers in violent groups lies in the terrorist’s job description. Who, after all, is least likely to confuse the radio with the landing gear, as Gambetta puts it, or the red wire with the green? But if groups need geeks for political violence, then engineering degrees ought to turn up in the rosters of all terrorist groups that plant bombs, hijack planes and stage kidnappings. And that’s not the case.

Gambetta and Hertog found engineers only in right-wing groups — the ones that claim to fight for the pious past of Islamic fundamentalists or the white-supremacy America of the Aryan Nations (founder: Richard Butler, engineer) or the minimal pre-modern U.S. government that Stack and Bedell extolled.

Among Communists, anarchists and other groups whose shining ideal lies in the future, the researchers found almost no engineers. Yet these organizations mastered the same technical skills as the right-wingers. Between 1970 and 1978, for instance, the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany staged kidnappings, assassinations, bank robberies and bombings. Seventeen of its members had college or graduate degrees, mostly in law or the humanities. Not one studied engineering.

The engineer mind-set, Gambetta and Hertog suggest, might be a mix of emotional conservatism and intellectual habits that prefers clear answers to ambiguous questions — “the combination of a sharp mind with a loyal acceptance of authority.” Do people become engineers because they are this way? Or does engineering work shape them? It’s probably a feedback loop of both, Gambetta says.

Economic frustration also matters, Gambetta says. In their sample of militants, there was only one homeland out of 30 in which engineers were less common: Saudi Arabia — where engineers have always had plenty of work. But “engineers’ peculiar cognitive traits and dispositions” made them slightly more likely than accountants, waiters or philosophers to react to career frustration by adopting violent, right-wing beliefs.


Engineer Dad said...

>>There is very little difference between Tea Party and Taliban members, or between either of them and the brownshirts. The brownshirts ended up with an actual government, which fielded crackerjack engineering projects to loony ends."

Conceived and written like a true left wing lunatic, Ncm, I can imagine the utter hopelessness of your 'Socialist Paradise'.

Martin_B said...

Like someone once said: "engineering is not a profession, it's a personality disorder"

That someone was undoubtedly left wing. Lefties despise engineers. That's why engineers feel uncomfortable in leftie-founded organisations. That's why there are so few engineers in them. It's the personality of the organisation leadership, not of the engineers, that is the important factor.

As an engineer myself, I have observed that engineers make poor politicians (Yassir Arafat was an engineer). They think political progress is made by action. Actually, it's made by persuasion and inspiration.

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