Islands in the Clickstream: Do Terrorists Really Have More Fun? Bruce Schneier, the author of Applied Cryptography and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, told me that he can not walk through a department store without seeing security as a challenge. How, he asks himself, can he outwit the coded tags and markers, surveillance cameras, and guards? That's what gets his juices flowing. That mindset is shared by most professionals I know in computer security, intelligence, or other kinds of police work. Every "white hat" who is honest with themselves sooner or later looks into the mirror and thinks: "I don't know if I'm a cop pretending to be a criminal or a criminal pretending to be a cop." "You have to think like a criminal," Schneier said, "in order to be good at security." I think of a former CIA agent, recently honored by the agency for an astonishing piece of detective work, who once immersed herself in the world of prostitutes and crack cocaine for a research project - I think of a cop who said of the adrenalin rush in his work, the chase is always the best part, tackling the suspect is second best, and double locking the cuffs is a distant third. The shadow self animates and energizes our socially acceptable personas. The differences between people often come down to awareness of that fact, not whether it's true. Self-knowledge infuses our work with appropriate humility and when we forget who we are, it always shows. The inner civil war is never over, so the challenge is to inflect its energies in the right direction, making it a source of power on behalf of the greater good. Clergy are like cops in this way too, energized by inner conflicts. Clergy self-select into the profession out of an intuitive awareness of the need for a training program to become more fully human. If we're lucky, the feedback loop from the people we serve, letting us calibrate our intentions with our behaviors, becomes a source of genuine spiritual growth. That shouldn't be surprising. This is true not only of cops and clergy but of all humankind. Civilization is a holding action against the threat of chaos. Enter the terrorist. Men and women who become terrorists, I imagine, are pretty bored. Terrorism is not about being poor or a victim of injustice. That's the narrative of selfjustification, but it's never the whole story. Terrorists come from all walks of life. They usually share low self-esteem, a hunger for stimulation and high risk, aggression and resentment. Resentment is the essence of spiritual maladjustment because it presumes we are owed something by others instead of owing everybody everything out of simple gratitude for being alive. Resentment scours the inner landscape of the self-obsessed like acid rain. It's the precondition of payback as a way of life. Along comes someone offering an identity that makes sense of those demon energies, offering support and community, offering a reason to exist, a part to play in a cosmic drama. Instead of being nobody in particular, we are - somebody. We are soldiers in the armies of righteousness. Our hunger for action finds an outlet. No longer boring, the world presents a challenge: How can I kill as many people as possible? How can I stick in my thumb and pull out a plum and say oh, what a big boy am I? It is much more fun to play that game than to walk the perimeter hour after hour in a dead patrol. The night watchman on his rounds does not have fun. The one hidden in the shadows waiting for him has a heart on fire. When we watch escape movies, we identify with prisoners outwitting the system, not the guards. Goodness is boring. Plotting and blowing things up, that's exciting. Bloodshed is exciting. How can low-paid work in some obscure corner of the world compete with that rush? Enter the counter-terrorist. The men and women I know who wage war with the threat of chaos have many of those same traits, as I said, but turn their furies in a different direction. They work out conflicts, expiate guilt, and alleviate shame by pursuing bad actors. The best of them know the world is gray, but stopping people from mass murder gets us out of gray areas in a hurry. Many of those same professionals also have a deep personal spirituality. I think of an intelligence professional who chuckles as he describes how to deflate the grandiose egos of terrorists with non-lethal weapons like stickum, slickum, and ultrasound. The sight of terrorists slipping all over the pavement or vomiting helplessly would puncture the false self, he says, undermining the terrorist's projection of power and invincibility. Why does he think that would work? Because his spiritual base includes periodic deflation of his own grandiose self in a disciplined way. Spirituality for him means using traditional tools to keep himself in perspective. It means surrendering the right to be resentful and justifiably righteous in order to find common ground in the merely human. I don't know why at the crossroads of our lives some choose life and some choose death. The reasons are a mystery which is a way of saying we know but don't know how to say what we know. Mystery is intuition rewarded with a clarity impossible to translate other than into the metaphorical language of dreams or poetry or the obscure native language of the soul. Evil is seductive but so is the chase, so is outwitting an enemy, so is an ordinary fall day, for that matter, an afternoon in the sun watching migrating geese fill the sky from horizon to horizon. Ordinary days are worth defending. Really, they're as much fun as killing millions. You just have to see the game in the right light, and besides, then you bequeath a legacy to the next generation of how to be fully human, good and evil mixed, and responsible for it at the same time. ****************************************************** Islands in the Clickstream is an intermittent column written by Richard Thieme exploring social and cultural dimensions of computer technology and the ultimate concerns of our lives. Comments are welcome. Richard Thieme is a professional speaker, consultant, and writer focused on the human dimensions of technology, work and "life on the edge." Feel free to pass along columns for personal use, retaining this signature file. If interested in publishing columns or employing Richard as a professional speaker, retreat leader or consultant, email for details. To subscribe to Islands in the Clickstream, send email to rthiemeat_private with the words "subscribe islands" in the body or subject heading of the message. To unsubscribe, email with "unsubscribe islands" in the message. Or subscribe at the web site www.thiemeworks.com. Islands in the Clickstream (c) Richard Thieme, 2002. All rights reserved. ThiemeWorks on the Web: http://www.thiemeworks.com and http://www.richardthieme.com ThiemeWorks P. O. Box 170737 Milwaukee WI 53217-8061 414.351.2321 ************************************ - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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