I’ve been meaning to write about a post from BoingBoing from late 2010 that I’ve been meaning to write about. It highlights an academic study which concludes that a key motivation for suicide bombers was the fact that they were [suicidally] depressed. Here are some snippets from the longer Boston.com article:
Are they religious fanatics? Deluded ideologues? New research suggests something more mundane: They just want to commit suicide.
These scholars found that 40 percent of the terrorists showed suicidal tendencies; 13 percent had made previous suicide attempts, unrelated to terrorism. Lankford finds Palestinian and Chechen terrorists who are financially insolvent, recently divorced, or in debilitating health in the months prior to their attacks. A 9/11 hijacker, in his final note to his wife, describing how ashamed he is to have never lived up to her expectations.
Fifty-three percent of the would-be bombers showed â€śdepressive tendenciesâ€? â€” melancholy, low energy, tearfulness, the study found
Now, I don’t want to automatically suggest that this is true and that this is what you should believe. I think it makes a lot of sense and I don’t see how it can’t be at least one of the factors — but the academic that the article profiles does have the minority opinion.
What I hope is that reading this article (and thinking about the possibility of suicidal suicide bombers) will put a damper on a common mode of thinking. We often have an incessant desire to speculate about the motives of people whose lives and circumstances we know next to nothing about — especially in the political sphere, and especially because it’s supposed to “support” our big theory of everything.
The best satire of such a mindset was made on Sep 12th 2001 in this brilliant piece. “Of course the World Trade Center bombings are a uniquely tragic event, and it is vital that we never lose sight of the human tragedy involved. However, we must also consider if this is not also a lesson to us all; a lesson that my political views are correct. Although what is done can never be undone, the fact remains that if the world were organised according to my political views, this tragedy would never have happened.”
The two mindsets are related: in the first case it’s being sure the psychological world works according to MY THEORY, in the second case it’s the whole world submitting to MY THEORY. I reckon there should be a special name for the first instance (eg. about “knowing” why suicide bombers commit suicide bombings). I propose the fallacy of folk psychoanalysis.
For a lot of questions to do with why the world is how it is, I think the problem isn’t that we haven’t collected and analysed all the data. Although that’s a major hurdle, the power of the “default” motivation for suicide bombers shows that our problem is that I just KNOW that MY THEORY is right, end of discussion.