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Updated 23 July 2009

Roots of Terror Briefly and Some Avenues Now Apparent

Reading recorded history is a heavy trip. Through all of it, terrorism, wars, and genocide surface again \ again. These repeat themselves in an endless ebb and flow of charades. Like complex rows of dominoes, each event triggers further events, becoming ever more intense with time. What is it about humanity that it never learns from history?

For a quick peek at what might be done see: Peace Via Nature's Way

"The power of command frequently causes failure to think." Barbara Tuchman.

This gem came long before the Neocon Warriors.

"The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first." Thomas Jefferson.

Two and a quarter centuries later, Jefferson's social wisdom rings ever more true. Too many social criminals are Extremists, Authoritarians, or Fundamentalists, and too many have hijacked Governance, Religion, Science, or Industry.

Following the ancient scripts, individual and collective violence in the forms of terrorism, war, and genocide march into the 21st Century--unchanged from their average expressions over the millennia.

Indeed, the Neocons with a figurehead president, showed us all just how fragile the U.S. Constitution really is. In effect, any party in control of the White House, Congress, and Supreme Court, can, with only minimal help by some supposed outside threat, legally turn the Constitution into meaning its opposite, just by fiat, no amendments needed. Indeed, one Mr. Gonzales and cohorts have shown the way; even a blind child could follow it. The Fourth Amendment has become null and void by just this means. Of course there are those who opposed these machinations from their origins onward. Bur if the scales are ever tipped, they would be the first to visit the Oubliette or Guillotine, whichever came first--all in the name of freedom and justice wrapped in a flag. The process is already well along.

Other techniques are also used. A venerable magazine, The Nation and others like it are facing ruinous mailing costs while big media faces comparatively minimal cost increases--thanks to lobbyists for the latter.

It takes only a few hours reading to combine the works of Adorno, Milgram, Altemeyer, Dean, and Stout with the historic insights of Pfaff to conclude that the veneer of a society is no thicker than that of an individual.

Grass-roots societal changes are needed everywhere to counter Extremism and its offshoot, Fundamentalism. Each nurtures conditions that radicalize the susceptible follower. Each creates societies that try to solve problems by the ages-old means of violence. Extremism can infect any type of governance, most especially kingdoms and dictatorships, and democracies too, if less so, as our present and earlier times show.

While an objective read of history will find organized terrorism often concentrated in monotheistic cultures, that does not explain the Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Hitler, Stalin, Bagasora, and Milosevic genocides in our times. There are nevertheless common threads.

Man's basic problem seems to be his inborn genetic potential for aggressive fierceness in acquiring and defending territory and resources in competition with other species as well as his own.

Man's aggression turned upon himself gives birth to a second survival instinct--hierarchical submission--the inverse of which is revealed as dominance.

Offsetting these tendencies to a significant extent, man's herding instinct for self preservation has survived and forms the basis for family and tribal units. These social groupings go on to organize fiefdoms and nation states as civilization matures and societies homogenize. Social psychologists have captured this complex with the term conventionalism.

Fierceness and herding instincts reinforce each other even though they are different means of enhancing the likelihood for survival. Nevertheless, we now have evidence that in something like 65-80% of all of us, our genes for fierceness and dominance override our herding instincts. This is our heritage and our nature.

Nurture, can moderate our aggressive instincts. Societies can differ markedly in their violence. Washington, Baltimore and Detroit nurture violence multiples more than do Honolulu and El Paso. The same feature is visible among nations. Norway and Portugal are role models compared with the United States in terms of limiting violence within their societies.

In one current modern form, terror is associated with monotheism on both sides; for evidence, read bin Laden and Bush. In this particular conflict, the basic issue is whose god is God. Bin Laden declared it is so, and some Mullahs of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and other countries endorse his fatwa. However, not all do. Some have issued a fatwa of their own against him. A fatwa by nature can advocate violence, depending on the circumstances. The U S Government, pushing religion as it does, plays into the hands of religious polarization that at once inspires the opposing side while draining the economies of both sides.

The root origin of violence is our jungle/savanna heritage as expressed in our inborn Authoritarian Personalities. For more on the question of whose god is God (central to terror in our times) see: Monotheism and Violence .

This is not to say that all monotheists today are consciously thinking in Hitlerian terms. But some seem to be acting like they do. It is not the typical authoritarian instigating terror, or formulating an appropriate response. It is the Sociopaths among us who hijack any convenient vehicle to further their own goal of winning total control. The vehicles may be anything between a nuclear family and a nation or religion.

Our findings seem compelling that the reasons for such behavior, at root, lie in our genes. A fifty-year history of consistent results of various scientific studies that began with the observations of Adorno , and continued through Milgram , Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, Altemeyer, Dean, and ultimately to Frank support just that interpretation. One might argue that Dean is not a scientist. By label or training that is true enough. But what Dean has contributed to knowledge is political science of the highest order--at its very best. It is high irony that some people in American society consider him a rat for disclosing impeachable behavior in the Nixon White House. Those people are of course the very ones who would elect and follow a sociopath (the most extreme authoritarian possible) over a cliff, making democracy extinct. The sociopaths/psychopaths among us are well described by Martha Stout and Robert Hare respectively. Most psychologists agree that these latter two "labels" describe the same personality type.

Nevertheless, in a most general sense, it is the Authoritarian Personality that correlates with violence on the stage of history. The authoritarian is at once aggressively dominant, submissive and highly conventional. Acting together, they create an inclination toward hierarchy, a Social System in other words. Such systems require not just someone above to look up to and obey, but someone below to despise and abuse as social conditions permit. This feature was apparent not only during Witch Hunting times, but today in our times in Rwanda, Abu Ghraib and many other scenes of violence.

In these ways, a populace can readily fall under the spell of dictators. That is what happened in Germany before WWII. Milgram, following up on work by Adorno on the German populace, showed that well over half of his subjects (Americans from New Haven) were authoritarian inclined to various degrees. A large fraction went to the limit in inflicting punishment by shock up to 450V. A small fraction exhibited no guilt about inflicting pain on others--no guilt whatsoever. These are the psycho/sociopaths (and narcissists) among us. They are also the most dangerous to humanity when they manage to co-opt a nation state as Hitler did, employ a religion to conquer as several popes did, or create a cabal as Bagosoro did.

Adorno was first to publicize this personality type; Milgram demonstrated that it was not limited to Hitler and the German populace; Zimbardo showed how profound it could be: Abu-Ghraib conditions spontaneously came into being during a psychology department experiment at Stanford University in. Mock jail conditions quickly broke down the inhibitions of participants. Animal behavior erupted almost immediately. Altemeyer systematically showed how authoritarianism generally infects North American politics, while John Dean dramatically recounted how a clique of authoritarians, the (Neocon Movement,) co-opted the proud party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to no good ends.

How that co-opting came about is as interesting as it is vital. Beginning with the Nixon Administration, Neocons began infiltrating government, effected slow changes in the System, and framed issues in such a way that they would sound good, while meaning the opposite in practice. Perhaps their most prominent dogma was "Compassionate Conservatism." It sounds like the best of both worlds. In practice it amounted to subversion of the sciences, restricted the freedom of women, and removed the concept of checks and balances from governance. Free enterprise, already corrupted by the plutocrats, suffered anew with special interests (large companies) writing legislation in effect and sometimes ion fact.

Cartelization of the banking industry served the purposes of the plutocrats. But is was Joe or Jane citizen, the folks who assumed the inflationary debt, who bailed out banks too large to fail. Profit were became privatized; losses were passed on to the public. Think about that for a minute. Joe and Jane are the insurance policy for the super rich. They are paid in real time; American society loses accordingly. Pretty neat! Plutocrats take risks for high profits; the US Treasury, you and me, bails them out when their judgment and controls fail. Rewarding poor judgment at the expense of the rest is not the way to the promised land. On top of that, The bankers continue to demand huge bonuses. "If you do not keep our bonuses in place we will not help you out of this jam." Come on, what kind of logic is that? Obama is doing many things right, but caving in to that argument was a gross blunder that is costing us all. The people who know how to get things done are those that get things done, not those in the ivory tower or board room. For every top dog, there are a dozen just as able the next tier down, and hundreds in the lower tiers. Obama's handling of GM was better--GM management was adjusted. But even then, the plutocrats were first in line to collect the government largess that came from you and me.

Back to the System. By System we mean the apparatus of implementation adopted by an administration. By propaganda, we mean the technique by the Bush administration used to dehumanize a nebulous and ill-defined enemy in order to instill such fear in the American populace that we gladly forgot Ben Franklin's admonishment. We exchanged our historic and hard-won freedoms for safety from a supposed enemy.

Zimbardo's wonderful metaphor rightfully indicts the "bad barrel" for the excesses of Abu Ghraib, while the Administration blames the "bad-apples" who feel compelled to execute what the System demands. It is still true, that the Authoritarian Personality , AP, is the root cause of violence. And Zimbardo's observations illustrate how it happens. The AP loves hierarchy and he creates an authoritarian system that legitimizes behavior, any behavior at all. History is replete with examples, the Witch hunts, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust are examples of vile and evil practices made legitimate by the leaders of these movements. Recent American history, Abu Ghraib in particular, is simply a replay wherein our societal sociopathology overcomes good sense.

If these tandem disclosures and the history of the last half-century are not a wake-up call in their historic and scientific consistency, we have never seen one. The primary features derived by Adorno using Freudian theory have survived into our times exemplified as such by North American politics (yes, the Canadians are also infected, just not pathologically, yet). The realm of Islam is equally infected with the Lucifer effect. Islam has been at war for fourteen centuries, if not with the rest of the world, then with itself. In that sense, Islam is not much different from Christianity.

Given the distinct tendencies so many of us have to lean toward Authoritarian thinking, it is no stretch to see why some of us are so susceptible to radicalization. This happens most often in unstable societies that have access to at least some wealth. The very poorest or richest of societies rarely produce individual terrorists, though the rich ones can effectively sponsor terror of the Zionist variety.

Authoritarianism manifests itself as bigotry in too many cases. Rosa Parks provided the spark that turned around Southern-state bigotry. Today, integration has succeeded in the US beyond the wildest dreams of those oppressed a century ago.

Ashutosh Varshney has shown more insight which furthers this theory. He paired eight cities in India in four groups of two by size and ethnicity. In each case, the cities paired exhibited great differences in violence between them. After studying their make-up and functioning, he discovered that the major determinant for peacefulness was the degree of ethnic integration in all aspects of society, governance, industry, services and the playground.

Since some nations, cities, and people manage to live peacefully in our times, there are some good reasons for hope.

See: Hope | Locus of Control | Solutions | Tokyo

Understanding What We Know
Determining What To Do

Once one understands and accepts these societal issues, there are a number of things that can be done on different levels:


The path forward internationally is already partly paved. Surveying that route began ever so slowly as it involved social evolution. As families coalesced into tribes that became feudal city-states, the basis for modern times began to firm up. Experiments with theocracy, empire, and socialism brought largely negative results over a millennium. International socialism, as practiced by Hitler on the right, Stalin on the left, along with a raft of supporters and followers, corrupted the ideals of Marx and others to the point of non-recognition. Virtually by happenstance democracy survived the world-wide threat of international socialism, socialism that in practice was nothing of the sort.

As so often happens in history, mundane events led the way from there. The Marshall Plan energized a new crop of leaders who realized their individualized fates rested on the welfare of their whole. Thus it was, that France (Jean Monnet), Germany (Conrad Adenauer), then Italy and the Benelux countries joined their coal and steel making futures by the Treaty of Paris. This document was the first cobblestone in what was to become a street: the European Community, by the Treaty of Rome, came into being. The White paper of 1985 presaged the Common Market in 1993. Here we have a critical event. Nations yielding portions of their own sovereignty for their own welfare as part of a greater whole show the rest of us what can happen when reasonable people engage in dialogue as Monnet and Adenauer did. On the political front, the League of Nations and the United Nations, as limited as they were, nevertheless provided a progressive framework in parallel with events that created the Common Market. Both progressions recognized that nationalism in and of itself does not hold all the answers.

From this overview, certain behaviors and goals seem self-evident: Bring cultures in conflict into Dialogue together. This effort could:

    • Prevent nuclear holocaust: Communication can lead to updating and implementing the Baruch Plan for controlling nuclear activities.
    • Remove an important cause of terror: Eliminate humiliation within and among cultures.
    • Increase ability to integrate all societies: Updating, internationalizing, and expanding the Peace Corp or an international equivalent can lead to further cooperation and tolerance between societies.
    • Effectively cap terror: Making the UN an effective World Government working to stabilize and modernize rogue countries, while preserving the best of what each culture has to offer, can be a transforming step.
    • Excise Extremism: Reforming societies, while preserving the best of what each culture has to offer, can bring about mutual understanding of one another.
    • Limit energy use: Finite sources are, well, finite. Learning to live with what is available from the sun and the atom is paramount to human survival. Maintaining that humankind has not contributed to global warming is to practice the highest form of denial (a root hang-up), to the detriment of all races and species on earth.
    • Limit Population Growth: There is NO CHOICE but to limit the birthrate of all humanity. If we do not, we shall all die as do microbes in a fermenting wine bottle when the sugar gives out and they drown in their own effluent. Affluent societies naturally limit their birth rates--yet another signpost on the road to peace.

The "weapon of the womb" has a place in evolution. But humankind is now in control of its own destiny. There is, at the very most, a half century left to alter the population-growth paradigm. Otherwise, the exhaustion of resources and the fights over what is left will surely wipe entire societies off the face of the earth.


While Europe is leading the way toward internationalism of a high and moral order, for most of the rest of the world this is not so. Although nationalism is already obsolete as a political experiment, it has not yet come for many African nations. Social evolution is spotty to say the least. Nevertheless, there are many practices that will ease tensions among nations. Reducing ethnic conflict and removing radicalizing elements is an appropriate next step:

    • Ethnic integration in all aspects of society has begun to falter in the face of polarizing ethnicities. This must be reversed via dialogue: The option is war and more war.
    • Create Universal Religious Tolerance: The option is war and more war.
    • Ensure Equal Educational Opportunity: The option is war and more war.
    • Ensure Equal Economic Opportunity: The option is war and more war.


This phase of our research is well captured by Zimbardo. We must actively and consciously prepare ourselves for bigger and better things approaching in the future of mankind. Each of us must make more than just an effort to contemplate and explore the following:
    • Learn about ourselves, especially our near-universal tendency toward Blind Obedience that leads us like a flock of sheep to commit the most heinous of crimes, war, and genocide.
    • Dialogue: Practicing effective communication will lead to mutual understanding and tolerance. It is imperative to reach across the religious/secular divide to find mutual understanding and respect.
    • Educate Ourselves and our children: Studying the three great disciplines --- philosophy and religion; history; science -- to learn what forces drive and work against evolution, social progress and technology. With understanding of these and their histories comes insight into the future.

There are certain areas of knowledge that are of particular interest. We cannot know too much about them, but we can know too little. If we close our minds, we are doomed. Even with open minds, we need to be careful and critical of propaganda and wary of tautology from any source.


To know where we want to go and how to get there, we need to know where we have been, and especially about all the things that did not work.

  • Natural: Physics begets chemistry begets biological life. Understanding how this happens is one of the achievements of modern times. No longer do we have only a spotty geologic record, as complete and compelling as it is. Biology and DNA along with other constituents of the cell illuminate heredity, mutations and the evolution of life in all its manifestations. Knowing mutation rates and degrees of relatedness, it is a simple matter to calculate when, for example, humanity diverged from the chimpanzee, our closest relative. Biology has developed to the point where it can determine the relative ages of various species simply by analyzing their variation!
  • Human: Connectedness with all biota. DNA has revolutionized the tree of life. It has also begun to revolutionize our view of how a human body works, even what it is composed of. After it was first proposed, it took humanity over two millennia to discover the atom, and the periodic table that rationalized chemistry. Biology underwent an analogous development much more quickly with some 300 years elapsing from Hooke's first proposal that life consists of cells to its codification in terms of DNA.
  • Evolution of society: From archeology, evidence of society is sufficient to demonstrate its existence in antiquity tens of thousands of years ago. Today we are quite proud -- maybe arrogant is the better word -- that we have become civilized. In many places on earth that seems to be true. We still must ask: What does it mean to be civilized? We behave differently from animals is a common reply. Those differences are civilization. Individually, we care about each other. But many animals do, too, and do good jobs of raising their young. For the most part we do, too. Do animals war on other species and kill them to the very last one? Yes, and so do humans. Do animal species practice border warfare? Many do and so do we. Do animals commit genocide? No, but we do, and still are. Many of the "higher" animals have their alpha males or females who rule the roost. We do, too, and some of ours commit terror and genocide. It is in technology that we differ most from our animal kin. But technology, as useful as it is, is not civilization in itself even as it affects civilization. Evolution of society seems to have barely begun, and only in pockets of humanity do humans live in relative peace, within their means, and in equilibrium with their renewable resources. Few are to be found in the mighty USA, maybe in Lancaster Pennsylvania, or perhaps a Number of States which rose to the challenge of meeting the Kyoto climate accord and succeeded beyond expectations--thanks to enlightened people such as Salt Lake mayor Rocky Anderson. Why cannot this entire great nation do likewise?

If democracy within nations has taught us anything, it is that a democracy among nations may be our salvation.


Develop Individuality:
  • Know: Anthropology / Psychology / Sociology / Economics / Balance Internal and External Loci of Control
  • Understand and Live with Nature: Mathematics / Inferential Statistics / Scientific Methods / Evolution
  • Control Our Destiny: Chemistry / Physics / Biology / Genetics

The Great Unknown

  • Philosophy: What might be beyond the frontiers of science and what we can prove?
  • Religion: What to make of the need humanity has for religion and the marked association of monotheism with violence?
  • Science: Is there life on other worlds? Are there other universes? Can we communicate with them?

Finding the Road Ahead

Since there are still many unknowns on the rocky roads ahead, there are a number of things we can do to explore with the same confidence and hopes that guided Vasco da Gama, Magellan, the Wright brothers, Watson and Krick. Guidance can be found, one way or another, by the scientific method, testing inferences.

We must answer some outstanding questions and find scientific answers, not political propaganda or denial.
  • Why is Tokyo the most peaceful, large metro-area on earth?
  • Why are Honolulu and El Paso tens of times more peaceful than Washington DC, Baltimore, or Detroit?
  • Why is America multiples more violent than Norway or Portugal?
  • Why does China have the oldest, least expansionistic, society on earth? How is it managing double digit growth?
  • What are the effects of population pressures on violence and how can they be dealt with?
  • Where on the human genome are the genes for aggression, obedience, and conventionalism which lead so destructively to authoritarianism and sociopathology?
  • Why do Nordic countries have high suicide rates?
  • Why do sparsely populated areas in the US have high suicide rates?
  • Why exactly does monotheism correlate so strongly with war, terror, and poor education at the elementary and intermediate levels?
  • What drives the cult leaders and apostates that historically permeate the monotheisms?
  • How can the sociopaths among us be identified and reared for positive societal effects?
  • How can the bipolar, either/or, trend in the modern world be redirected to recognize the gray and colored areas in between?
  • How can we implement findings from new research? Will continuing education throughout life times work?

Follow Up

For starters, visit Actions For Peace, where we collect the many approaches needed to move forward in our search for peace. While approaches listed are quite inclusive, they may not be complete. Also as time rolls by, new events provide new opportunities and/or new insights into the many issues. Fast footwork may be needed on occasion.

Effectively implementing answers from the above will surely lead humankind toward cohesion instead of divisiveness and violence. Following up new leads should neither displace nor await implementation of things known to work. In other words, there is no set formula, do divine guidance. What there is are lessons to be learned, absorbed and employed.

Dialogue at the grass-roots level, among cultures now in conflict, offer an immediate means to getting to know our neighbors who share this fragile biosphere with us.

This project is already illuminating many of the human ills that we and our children face. If it looks like it will take generations to banish terror from earth, it is all the more reason why we need to get on with it...

Terror is immediate and ubiquitous, and so our responses should be. At the same time, we can only be patient and persistent using appropriate long-term means. Many of these are listed in: Actions For Peace.