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Sorting out the truth about terror

Nothing is more valuable than critical thinking. All it takes is an open receptive mind; experience helps. Russell observed a serious problem; Maimonides captured the main barrier to critical thinking; in a nutshell, it is scary. Critical thinking is alien to the scared cats; it leads to unfamiliar thoughts, insights, and conclusions that go against all that they feel they are. Such people are most often Authoritarians.

Nevertheless, critical thinking gave us printing, the industrial revolution and the scientific age. Critical thinking by voters is vital if a democracy is to thrive and reach its fullest potential. How can one know how to vote if one does not or cannot think critically? Critical thinking is more important even than being broadly informed. A small random sampling of information interpreted critically will provide a better picture of a situation than will all the information interpreted casually from the gut, or without thought.

Moreover, there are various kinds of intelligence. For example, the web site " Multiple Intelligences" lists:

Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number and reasoning smart")
  • Spatial intelligence ("picture and form smart")
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
  • Musical intelligence ("music smart")
  • Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
  • Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
  • Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

  • Success comes to organizations and cultures whose citizens properly fit their smarts to the situation and they also fit situations to their smarts. Most people are a mix of the above listing. Some are not only multitalented, but are high on the scale in several areas. If word smart includes manipulation ability, then Mr. Bush would rank high in word smarts.

    Statesmen are strong on intra- and interpersonal smarts with good handles on logic and natural dimensions. In contrast, politicians notoriously gild their ideas with gold and promise the moon. And too many voters, rather than think, keep falling for their own fantasies about the politician.

    Intelligence is not the only dimension of personhood; character and skills play equal roles in the triad that makes up the human psyche. For effective governance these features need to be assessed; some times they are evident from a candidate's history. Throughout the history of the American way devious characters in some dimension or other have too often won the White House; voters were simply unaware of their critical dimensions. Voters who do not think critically get what they vote for.

    Plato was well aware of this human failing. He thought democracy was a very poor way to govern. Only through elaborate controls on the governance system via checks and balances, a strong infrastructure manned by an educated middle class, and firmly separated from religion or similar influence can true democracy exist.

    Critical thinking can exist anywhere. It deduced that the earth is round and goes around the sun in very early times. Critical thinking deduced that the earth is not spherical but a little oblate, is made up of 92 natural elements, and that new elements can be created by employing fundamental building blocks (neutrons).

    Critical thinking developed paper, the printing press, steam power, telegraph, automobile, radio, television, and the Internet. Critical thinking produced antibiotics and deciphered the human genome. Critical thinking gave us simple methods for birth control, a vast liberation for women. In short, critical thinking underlies progress by societies, even as some societies mostly borrow from others.

    Politicians need not ignore critical thinking. There is much evidence that politicians capable of critical thinking do rather better than others and some leave lasting marks; they are just rare birds. They may even be judged statesmen in history if their characters are deserving.

    A prime example in our time may be the recent mayor of New York. Rudolph W. Giuliani was a giant among mayors anywhere and this clearly showed in his handling of the World Trade Center crisis on 9/11. And it showed in his statesmanship before the UN.

    In contrast, his successor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire entrepreneur, had no political experience beyond the boardroom. Yet Bloomberg is accomplishing things that had stymied Giuliani and his predecessors. He was able to reorganize the school system, get sweeping anti-smoking legislation passed, use unusual and unpopular means to relieve the homeless problem, get work started on redeveloping the Trade Center, avoid a transit strike, reduce fire and the crime rates further to historic lows, balance the city budget during a time of great financial stress, and do all that as the police force shrank. Sure the city was already moving in some right directions, but his substantial freedom from political debts allowed him to move forward with the City Council to accomplish some good things. He selected his staff only for competence.

    But a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. Bloomberg's initiatives began to bog down, his approval rating dropped to the lowest on record. If the voters had a say, he could get nowhere. Why? He could not connect with mister and misses of New York City. Aloof, arrogant, ambitious, and emotionally detached, his initiatives simply ran out of gas. His use of his personal fortune to promote his programs turned off many New Yorkers. Critical thinking was there, but people-connections needed for implementation were not. Bloomberg is woefully short on interpersonal intelligence, "emotional intelligence" if you will. There is more to life than critical thinking, as necessary as it is.

    The counterpoint is also true. Emotional intelligence alone is not sufficient either; character is required to prevent its misuse--to manipulate people, for example. Further, most of us develop hang-ups of one sort or another. Hang-ups have the purpose of protecting our psyches, but unfortunately they also blind us to ourselves. We develop biases that get in the way of both critical and emotional thinking. If there is one feature that sets back the human animal, it is unconscious biases.

    Critical thinking is based on factual knowledge and established relationships among the various pieces of information. Critical thinking meets nature as nature defines itself, including instincts and emotions. Science depends on critical thinking; religion could care less.

    Basic to critical thinking is asking critical questions.

    That is our policy.

    Many phony techniques are passed off as critical thinking. See Baloney Detection Kit for more.

    In our quest for bin Laden, critical thinking will get us there. A military, however decisive in its ultimate power, can be a blunderbuss, a shotgun-in-the-dark, when it cannot find the enemy. Who in Washington can think like a terrorist (different from being a terrorist)? With that understanding will come improved power and control. Finding the burrows of terrorists and smoking them out requires a mentality beyond what the Zionists, or the Bush Administration, has shown. An emulation of Palestine may now be developing in Iraq. Some writers also draw analogies with Vietnam, and indeed there are some. Iraq presents elements of each history. Those precedents are not happy.

    Who does Mr. Bush look like when Muslim homes are razed by tanks? What has that policy gotten the Zionists?

    What happens when you displace individuals from their homes? Hint, they do not become your friends.

    One obvious starting place is some facts:

    • Terror is older than recorded history. It is endemic in much of the world.
    • Therefore it has something to do with the behavior of our species; its potential is inborn.
    • Having tanks bulldoze homes does not and has never worked.
    • Terror won't go away without unusual, patient, persistent, and wise intervention.
    • Violence is symptomatic of monotheism. Terror is most often associated with monotheisms in our times, but it can also be secular, as in Hitler's, Stalin's, and Pol Pot's days. Monotheistic terrorists often invoke secular reasons for their actions and vice versa.
    • Terror exists in all societies to more or lesser degree. From those differences, we should be able to learn something. The next bullet reports on just that.
    • Varshney has found a most important key: ethnic integration in all tiers and aspects of society leads to more peaceful societies. Varshney knows how to think.
    • Peaceful cultures exist, such as Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism. How do the they do it?
    • Peaceful and violent cities (different by a factor of 20) exist in America. What are their differences? What differences stand out as basic causes.
    • Tokyo is the most peaceful of all the huge metro-areas on earth. How do the Japanese do it?
    • As a nation, America is roughly 10 - 100 times more violent than the most peaceful countries. Why? That sounds like terror at home. In fact terror at home is a much larger peril to us individually than terror from overseas. Authoritarian Personality is the reason why.
    • Displaced people want their homes back. See Zionism.
    • Humiliated people are uncooperative when they feel you contributed to their condition.
    • Even more than Hitler's Germany, or America today, Islam fosters Authoritarianism.
    • The Iraeli - Palestinian conflict has become such a cancer in Islam, that accommodation all around must be made if peace is to come. See Iron Wall for a prescient prediction of Israel today. The same reference, a few paragraphs later, predicts that peace would only come if the Palestinians were so completely crushed that they would come with hat in hand to bargain for peace. That too has never happened; the Iron Wall became the only option left. The problem is now so far beyond the Palestinians that even the Iron Wall will not work. If peace in the Middle East is to come, it must start in Palestine. See Zionism for a missed chance.
    • War works in the sense demonstrated by WW II. A society was totally destroyed. The Marshall Plan was something new to history, and it was decisive in moving Europe toward peace. The Marshall plan ushered in the peace.
    • Winning peace via war was also true of Pax Romana. But Pax Romana was plagued by raids on the borders of the Roman Empire even as the interior regions were peaceful.

    Terror at home is a much larger peril to us individually than terror from overseas.

    A critical approach to these known facts points away from present policies, no matter how "popular" with the American public they may be.


      As the Oslo Peace Agreement was nearing implementation, Baruch Goldstein killed 31 Muslim men in prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron 25 February 1995. Then, with implementation of the Oslo accord still on track, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally on 4 November 1995 by an assassin from Israel's own religious-nationalist movement.

      These events have the appearance of Zionism in action; both were designed to torpedo peace or nationhood for the Palestinians. Like it or not, terrorism does change the course of historyfrom the inside as well as from the outside.

      A stunning feature of all this was the frank admission by a high-level Israeli diplomat (URI Savir) that Israel had lived an illusion. What Savir discovered is contrary to the Palestine Mandate, and the United Nation's General Assembly endorsement of a Jewish State in Palestine. In subjugating others, Israel seems to have even gone beyond the basic tenets of Zionism, not to mention human decency itself. Two generations of Palestinians have been born in the refugee camps. A third is on the way, and their lives are squalid by any standard.

    Looking inward is the "self smart" intelligence listed above. Looking at/to others involves "people smart" and "nature smart". "Logic smart" completes the basic thinking quartet that would be effective in leading anti-terror strategies. By being people smart, we can learn what the vulnerabilities of the terrorists are. Employing self smarts, we can better see our own contributions to the problem. One is as important as the other and both must happen. And, yes, we are contributing to the terror problem. Nature smart reveals our very real connectedness with and dependence on our environment, and with each other. Nature must be nurtured lest our environment accelerate in reverse. Logic smart is most vital; it can recognize bias for what it is and mediate all the other "smarts."

    The Authoritarian Personality is part of many if not most of us. But all four smarts are needed to solve the questions of terrorism. To be sure finding the path is harder than following it. But it is already apparent that the latter will require patience, and lots of it.

    So where does this leave Islam and the many realms of terror? Irshad Manji in her "The Trouble With Islam" provides a thoughtful appraisal.

    Manji brings marvelous tools to her writing table. Critical thinking, insight, courage, and a way with words. In a paragraph she captures an essence that may take another author an entire book to explain. Manji provides an important example of critical thinking at its best. As you read her passages, reflect on how she may have come to her insights. Perhaps "Even A Child Can Do It". In-born insight seems to help!

    Manji has messages for all of us, the most important perhaps is that wisdom follows maturity of insight and tolerance. A snippet from p. 58 points to modern America: "The tricky part of empire isn't amassing it, but making it hum."

    Will Manji become a mover and shaker? She already has. Is she worth reading? Of course, regardless of your persuasion. Look for her insights into the seemingly mundane. Contrast her incisiveness with the negative, even haughty, platitudes you can read in some reviews.

    Her critical thinking exemplifies what this page is all about.

    To be free is to question and to question is to be free.

    See also Baloney Detection and Hope.


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