Wednesday, March 05, 2008

the "f's" of freedom and fanaticism (cont.) or, the human operating system

I have been looking at the question of identifying suspicious internet behaviors lately, wondering if a crazy new concept I have about search could have an application in this field. Probably not, even if it seems otherwise.

Two sources inform me: The New York Police Department (NYPD) Intelligence Division, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, made public August 15, 2007, 90 pages, also available in macromedia flashpaper format online, and
Haruki Murakami, Underground: the Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel), Vintage International, 2001, 366 pages

I read the Murakami book first, finding it in a bookstore after first reading his novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The NYPD report was found not within the first results of a web search for suspicious criminal or terrorist internet search behavior. To be blunt, both sources are non-fiction and both come around pretty much to similar assumptions about the kind of people in Japan or the West who end up in or leave terrorist cells: these are normal and middle or upper class people who find within their acquired new ideologies something missing within mainstream society. As Murakami says, it is exactly these "who should be most critical of our 'utilitarian society' who use the 'utility of logic' as a a weapon and end up slaughtering masses of people", that "language and logic cut off from reality have a far greater power than the language and logic of reality - with all that extraneous matter [confusion and contradictions - traintalk] weighing down like a rock on any actions we take".

The NYPD report is controversial on several levels and mostly because some believe it should have stayed classified. I disagree: the incisive moments of radicalization - the stages of wandering, world view rebuilding, and enabling are the precise suspect shadow activities that are the red lights of the process which occurs but which also happens on the internet. Ideally, finding this thread and locating these people in early incubation stages could conceivably prevent future tragedies. My thought on making this report public is that it makes these potential future terrorists members of society again - it says, read this and know thyself and implicitly it says, we know the kinds of things you are doing and the kinds of things you are going through, even if you actually go through with it to the end and we never find you. Without saying it, it has the potential to create a mental dialogue and I believe it is one of the first attempts I have seen at saying in different words, you're really ok (and when you're not ok is a fine line) until what you are doing is illegal - look, we're really ok too, that even if we might both be a little screwed up (or very or not screwed up at all), we can still find a way to put this behind us and move forward together.

It doesn't say the following but it could have: "Oppression, suffering, revenge, or desperation" for some - the report is referring to Palestinians - is the same as confusion, contradiction, hard knocks and identity crisis for others. Or, in more direct language, we who made aliyah as individuals can have it just as hard but for different reasons as those who came in large numbers to Israel because they had to. As it happens, it is likely everyone has problems. For whatever its worth, we are the same stuff. Some end up on death row in prison, some die and some are Fortune 500 material, and some can be any of the above.

Some time ago, on a late arriving train no less, I had the privilege of speaking with a person who told me that the entire world is based on the same human operating system and that this was this person's basis for believing in ultimate understanding, a la Thucidydes, his hope for world peace. At the time I disagreed, arguing that, due to what seem to be perversions and mutations, that people can not and will not see eye to eye. I offered a compromise: factor in "klipot" and I will accept that we are all on the same operating system. He agreed, although we had made a few stops and many people stood between us, packed inside the door, and then soon, he arrived at his stop, we made sign language for thank you and farewell and he left the train. If I recall correctly, my basis for this discussion was The World is Flat and an excellent critique against it. However, if indeed , we are all on the same human operating system - it is this that makes the world flat from the start.

What is missing are the narratives that remind us. Perhaps better - the narratives that speak to us where we are.


rockofgalilee said...

Whether the material in the NYPD paper could make the difference that you see is actually a function of presentation. If it was presented in a different way to the potential terrorist or misfits as they may be, then it would have a greater potential to provoke change. However, written as a NYPD paper it is essentially an anti-them paper, which makes them biased against it from the start.

traintalk said...

True, some have criticized the NYPD paper as racial profiling. However, others have said such things as "NYPD has a major advantage if it would only use it" meaning living up to American ideals, implying, in this context, that a dumbed down presentation is part of the problem and typical of today's traditional media, noting that it is on the net that the difference between hate extremism and reasoned argument is made for all to see and that this Achilles heel of dark purposes (John S. Quarterman - PeerFlow) is where the information war is most intense. So a vulnerable person may access the NYPD report intending to reverse engineer it, only to find it makes for serious reflection and positive reevaluation.

traintalk said...

My first paragraph caveat, that actually predicting suspicious acts before they happen - by analyzing internet behaviors - is unlikely to happen - is also the conclusion of a report sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation entitled "Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists:A Framework for Program Assessment" 2008.,reported here: Treating the possession of Salafi-Jihadist literature as a criminal offense as considered in the link "a fine line" would mean considering anyone with such material "not ok" to begin with, a stand that implies there is no such possibility as a moderate Muslim, a case best presented at the ShrinkWrapped Blog. Worse, Islam is making converts while no so-called "Westernized" Arab has succeeded making (or even trying, for all we know) the shame-to-guilt cultural change. More on "moderate":"On the passing of Zaki Badawi and "moderate Islam" and "Dissing Barenboim: Taking the Measure of Palestinian 'moderation'"

traintalk said...

Listen to the August 11, 2009 Charlie Rose interview with Alexander Karp, CEO of Palantir Technologies. Two things: this challenges my last comment ("predicting suspicious acts before they happen - by analyzing internet behaviors - is unlikely to happen") and secondly, it backlights the unquantifiable undeniable importance of the study of the humanities, even in our over-metric'ed overgamed academic ratings world. Martin Smith's blog provides interesting coverage: As does The takeaways? Western values will win if we believe in what we're doing. And his thoughts about "entrepreneurship".