The Wary Guerrilla, Part II: Terrorism

In 1969, Arthur D. Lewis wrote (407):

If we have thought about it at all, I think many of us have simply assumed that man, being rational, would respond logically to a changing environment. He would adapt himself to his environment simply because that was the sensible thing to do. But this is not the case. Social man reacts irrationally to radical change.

Lewis was half right: man reacts irrationally to any change.

At least, that’s the case if by irrational we mean non-self interested. And this is by and large a good thing. People in general act as if they are more concerned about distributive justice than personal gain (Guth & Tietz, 1990; Fehr & Gachter, 2000). Even a partial list of the pro-social behaviors that have been observed is monumental (Rankin, Bruning, & Timme, 1994; Hibbing & Theiss-Morse, 2001; Sanfey et al., 2003; Smith et al, 2004; Hibbing & Alford, 2004; Jervis, 2004; Larimer, Hannagan, and Smith, 2006).

Yet not all cooperative behavior is desirable. The human trait of war (Muller, 1958) –coalitionary killing — is shared by our closest relatives, the chimpanzees (Wrangham, 1999), as well as with much smaller creatures (Lenski & Riley, 2002; Wilson & Holldobler, 2005). Among such species, cooperation among an in-group can lead to hostility towards outgroups (Sapolsky, 2006). Other forms of often undesirable cooperation exist as well (Wiley, 1988; Nowell & Laufer, 1997).

Suicide-bombing is a form of undesirable, altruistic cooperation. Terrorism and punishment are both purposeful violence (Butler, 2002) designed to change behavior. Altruistic punishment is a form of decentralized punishment (Orbell et al., 2004) which leads to cooperation over repeated encounters (Bender & Mookherjee, 1987). Such deterrence can be successful even when multiple, potentially hostile groups compose a population (Afri, 2000). Some scientific work hints at analogues in controlled settings. Punishment has been observed in the lab even when it will not improve the material or social condition of the punisher (Boyd, Gintis, Bowles, & Richardson, 2003). However, more must be done.

Previous attempts to build a profile of suicide terrorism have failed (Sprinzak, 2000). The variety of environments in which suicide bombing is expressed (Ganguly, 1988; Keerawella & Samarajiva, 1995; Talmon, 2005; Wald, 1984; Weiss, 2001) seems to be matched only by the variety of potential explanations (Allen, 2002; Adoni, 1997; Ball, 2002; Borneman, 2001; Lorber, 2002). Yet regardless of how the issue is framed (see Jenkins 1986; Kerry 1997; Bush, 2002) the need to know how to deter such adversaries is clear (Jervis, 2002; Yoo, 2003).

Currently, there are only a few agreed upon characteristics of terrorists. Most terrorists are male (Thompson, 2006), and they are generally well educated, generally well off, and feel humiliated (Atran, 2003). This paper proposes a “Wary Guerrilla” type that can be identified in the laboratory. This type acts more similarly to a suicide bomber, punishers more harshly, than any gameplay type previously identified. If the wary guerrilla is shown to exist, our knowledge of how to fight terrorism is advanced.

The Wary Guerrilla, a tdaxp series
1. Abstract
2. Terrorism
3. Predictions
4. An Experiment
5. Results
6. Absolute Guerrilla
7. Those Who Cause Less Pain
8. Future Research
9. Political Implications
10. Bibliography

4 thoughts on “The Wary Guerrilla, Part II: Terrorism”

  1. I remember reading something a few months ago that said that witnesses to a suicide bombing reported that the bomber was smiling just before he detonated. I suspect that the bombers, when they are on their mission, are not operating out of the ordinary state of consciousness, but rather are having a religious experience. They may in fact be experiencing a kind of spiritual ecstasy and perhaps that ecstasy is what they were seeking all along. Unfortunately the psychological study of religious experiences is a marginal area of study, which means that accepted psychological and sociological theories may be inadequate in attempting to understand the suicide bomber phenomena.

  2. Phil,

    It would be interesting to know if “ectasty” varied by religiosity (would Tamil and Marxist bombers be more dour?) or religion (Islam's explicitly sensual description of paradise is more young-male friendly than Christianity's) of the bomber.

  3. btw, i'm not trying to be cliche when i say i have a bad feeling that this type is going to be *exactly* how i behave when driving 🙁

  4. S,

    Is this Sean's new, cool nom de plume? :-p

    One of the problems of running these experiments on the computer is that it is not clue whether people would act like these in normal situations. Besides sticking black boxes in everyone's cars, I wonder if you could have participants play Grand Theft Auto, or perhaps some more complicated game [1,2].

    I just finished watching Crash, an utterly amazing movie. About half-way through I realized I could categorize most characters as one of the four behavior types I looked for in this study: wary cooperator, wary guerrilla, other cooperator, or other guerrilla. [3] My immediate concern is validating these types to classroom group projects, but extending them into other parts of real life would obviously be useful.


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