Cult Thinking and Terrorists

Tragic events pain us, and even more so for the failure of media to put them in the proper context. The media fails to educate, to the point they prefer to run with gossip and innuendo to purely educational content to fill dead air.

On some issues they may paint a fair picture, such as when they cover cults. Most of the time the cult harm to society comes in alienation and wasting of resources. The media seldom covers cults unless their harm grows far beyond this basic level, to mass suicide or worse.

But many events we see in the news are intimately related to the sort of cultural relativism needed to understand cults. None more so than terrorism, and the world view that allows for it.

First one should might contrast the reaction to domestic incidents with those that take place overseas. The media tends to barely report terrorist bombings in Iraq, for example. They certainly do not follow any manhunts, seek out family, neighbors, and other acquaintances to interview, and the like.

This itself shows the sort of tribal and cultist worldview. The value difference based purely on nationality or locality becomes essential to terrorism and cults in general. But that value finds itself lacing most any culture.

The feature of the media that stands out as an unanswered question (the media should both ask questions and answer or seek answers to questions): ‘how could terrorists kill the innocent (children, civilians)?’ But worse than media, this sentiment arises from elected officials (which suggests the need for a Constitutional Amendment requiring continuing education for all legislators).

The basic formula of the cult, of terrorists:

  1. The world differs from how you learned to view it (and therefore from how your teachers view it and how their group views it).
  2. There will be calamity unless either most people come to view it correctly.
  3. For peoples’ minds to change, YOU must participate in some activity that you wouldn’t do without our programming.

It’s a little more involved, especially using ego control (using emotional abuse to train the person to become dependent on the cult (and more importantly on fulfillment of their promise) for emotional health), isolation (to prevent opportunities for cognitive dissonance), and other techniques.

The belief that one’s soul hangs upon carrying out a religious/ritualistic promise to the gods, and that not continuing once promised would essentially doom one to hellfire illustrates why many single out religion as a problem. But that can be said equally of any religion that posits the existence of a hell, and pointing to the non-cultist believers as both wrong and faithful simply strengthens the belief.

To understand the act of terror one must unpack the meaning not as it appears to the asker, but to the terrorist or cultist worldview. Ultimately the prevention of terrorism relies upon this sort of thinking. Some measure of terrorist acts may be prevented through law enforcement and military operations. Most terrorism will need to be literally disarmed through cultural actions not violent actions.

But society needs this sort of understanding not just for combating terrorism, but cults, racism, and fascism of all sorts. We need to be taught to unpack our own culture from time to time and recognize the dysfunctional and functional parts. It doesn’t ruin a thing to understand it, yet it seems a part of our culture believes exactly that it does.


Hegemony in the (Tech) World

This is another discussion about culture stemming from the ongoing dissatisfaction in the open source community at large over the bad culture that exists in the computer industry (and far beyond it).

I’ve been lucky enough to more-or-less avoid direct contact with the dominant culture in Western technology. But I can understand that culture’s existence in the wider culture. It’s not about women, but about dominance. And it will continue until an alternative culture supplants it. Outlawing it, banning it, these do not suffocate it.

Cultures develop very rapidly. Culture is basically an instantiation of an expectation. If you visit your grandmother, and she answers the door wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and combat boots, then that particular instantiation of the grandmother-grandchild culture probably just took a weird turn. But it could be that your grandmother is a biker, in which case her answering the door in slacks and a blouse would get you diving in the hedges and calling the invasion of the body snatchers hotline.

One of the key problems in changing the culture is that many members of the dominant culture that you interact with aren’t alone in their daily lives. So even if you get them to see the light, by sheer inertia of returning to their regularly scheduled programming, they will readopt the bad culture.

Indeed, many will have initially adopted the persona of a member of that group in the presence of others of that group, in order to fit in. But once you’re expected to think of jokes of a certain type, your brain rewires itself a bit. And you’re supposed to get them out there fast, before the other guy, to show your own dominance within the group. So now you’re losing your natural tendency to analyze your speech before expressing it.

The company you keep ends up keeping you. Everyone becomes a copy of a copy of a copy. The first rule about the culture is that you do not talk about the culture.

The code of silence in the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk isn’t to prevent the spread of the fight clubs. It’s to prevent the members from openly discussing what they are engaged in. They can tell non-members about it in the sense of spreading the culture, but never have a metatalk about it.

And I think that’s key. If an infection is deep enough, the best that the body can do is to build around it, wall it in. To truly remove it requires opening it to the air and light and pulling it out completely.

So talking about it from the outside helps a bit. But ultimately the discussions have to happen on the inside. The purveyors the various cultures must themselves come to understand their own culture, instead of ignoring that it is controlling them without them having any real say in it.

It’s a difficult thing to do. If you try to raise the issue from within the culture, the same defense mechanisms that are harmful to outsiders will be turned on the rule breaker. It will be a light attack at first, and persisting will only make the threat more real.

It’s probably best to go for one-on-one discussions of the culture with the purveyors for that reason. Less feeling that they have to enforce the culture in that setting, and one-on-one cultures of their own develop rapidly.


Free as in Culture.

Came across some ongoing debate regarding whether culture should be treated as software is.  That is, whether the licenses of culture can be equally free to those of software.  Thought I would write briefly on that subject.

Before continuing I will simply note my own guilt in licensing the contents of this blog.  Up until today I was using the Creative Commons 3.0 License with the Attribution and No Derivatives caveats.  Today I’m glad to relicense all of the works under the simpler, freer Attribution, Share Alike license.  This is much more in line with my general leaning toward the GPL.

Prehistory and History

In the time before writing, man did possess language.  While language has evolved further due to the intertext from written language, its core remains spoken.  And in that time before writing, culture was free.  If I told you a story, you would retell it in your own fashion.  You might or might not attribute the story to me, and I might or might not attribute it to its original author or influences.  But the central freedom to experience, modify, and redistribute the data was maintained.

Once writing came into play, the general pattern did continue.  Oral tradition became a bit more fixed (and in some cases the freedoms were lost due to lack of ability of more than the privileged to write and read), but even then rewriting occurred.  The new regime rewrote the old regime’s deeds, depending on their relationship.


One of the things that made the programming language LISP so powerful and notable was its treatment of data and code as equals.  With that ability in place, LISP informs this discussion.

If you see human language as a programming language for building memes, it becomes important to see that it’s a case where data and code are equals.  Otherwise, we might be stuck with a non-functional meme like, How come that bird we like to eat sometimes with the funny head and it lays eggs went all the way over that place people like to walk around on? instead of, Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why Culture is Free

Cultural freedom is essential because in order to be in a culture, one must participate.  Some cultures try to reduce that participation to being a member of an audience, but that is still participation.  The bystanders of the revolution are just as much involved as the victims, tyrants, soldiers, terrorists, police officers, attorneys, and so forth.

Recognizing that by reading this you are sharing a cultural experience, you automatically have some amount of shared ownership in that experience.


Ownership is a set of freedoms and restrictions over some given object.  In culture, most of those attributes are implicit.  If you attend a museum or a play, you implicitly have the right to experience your presence in that location.  You implicitly (explicitly in cases, by statute or contract (eg, ticketholder agreement)) may not take the artifacts with you or get on stage.

But you can tell people you were there, what it was like, what it cost you, etc.  And you own that experience.

As it Was

So the issue with culture that’s raised is the threat of someone taking a work and changing it in ways that misrepresent or otherwise diminish the original.  If I draw my own Mona Lisa then does that harm the original?  No.  Particularly not when I give attribution (“go see Leonardo’s version over there”).  Particularly not when I disclose the difference between the works.

That’s exactly among the requirements of the Creative Commons Adaptations section: that one must disclose that the work is not the original.

As You Wish

But that’s still my decision.  You might feel in some circumstances you want the work to get out there and don’t want anyone to make a buck on it or to change one iota (Ɩ, 0x0196).  Just as with software, that’s the creator’s right to decide.  That’s important, that free software and free culture never seek to coerce behaviors, only to provide the choices.

Think of the (Time When You Were) Children

When you were a kid, you hopefully had some pretty fun interactions with others.  They didn’t tell you that those experiences were restricted.  They didn’t say, “I own hide and seek,” or that you had to repeat their exact giggle when you splashed in puddles.

Some of the games even depended upon free culture, like the Lossy Encoding Game where you sat in a circle and whispered what you heard to the next person.

No one got mad when the lossiest encoding was something that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the original.  It was fun.  And no one really believed the first person had said that last phrase, either.  And everyone had their own set of phrases, the heard and the spoken, and they all differed from the initial and the final.


Dietary Habits of the Humans

What the World Eats (Human world, that is). Seen via Interprete which is syndicated on Planet Debian.


No more monolithic law (or kernels?)

Okay, I won’t get into the linux kernel argument, but I will say that it’s time we moved away from monolithic laws and bills. It worked well in 1776 because they spent a lot of time and read the thing. The Constitution was such an important document.

They had tried and failed with the Articles of Confederation and wanted to get it right. In a lot of ways the creation of the Constitution mirrored the development of the kernel. After awhile the kernel took on collaborative creation and eventually became solidified. It’s bloated if you leave everything turned on, but no one needs everything and most distro stock kernels are solid.

Back to the law. Today most laws passed by Congress are mammoths. They are jambalaya. A bit of law, a bit of appropriation for necessary things, a lot of these stupid riders. We need to, as a nation, move away from single laws that do all these things at once. The immigration bill discussed during the Republican Primary debate is a perfect example.

They have a 400 page bill that covers everything and has to be debated on its merits as a whole. That’s like someone giving you a piece of proprietary software and saying “take it or leave it.” It’s bull-headed and backwards. Instead, I’m sure you’d prefer to get a piece at a time like I would, and evaluate that piece. Try it with a fence. Try it with amnesty or not, with ID cards and a database or not. See what it can do and what it can’t do.

If they would put the various pieces into independent bills and debate the merits one at a time and decide “Yes we need some kind of guest worker program, yes we need to have a process toward citizenship,” and so on, we could get a law that actually does the job.

Until then we’re stuck with a bunch of numskulls whining about the legislation not being perfect.