Domestic Terrorism in a Society of Violence

I had planned to pontificate on politics and global warming this week, but two mass shootings in the United States put my mind on more immediate worries. In order to understand (and eventually solve) this horrendous problem, we must realize that domestic terrorism is a social problem, is caused by the society where it occurs and can only be cured by changing that society.

History is Written by the Winners

A common slant on political terrorism is that once they win the revolution, the rebels become heroes. This idea is most often pointed out in the history of the United States. It has also occurred throughout the world as former colonies broke away from their European imperialist rulers, usually through violent means.

However, two terrorist situations stand head and shoulders above the rest in their development because of the sophistication of the societies in which they arose. I’m talking about the Irish Republican Army and the multitude of groups in Palestine. In both cases, there was a legitimate reason to resist forcibly against an unyielding colonial power (Britain in both cases). However, once the goals of the revolution were mostly achieved, the terrorist organizations continued their drive for power and became impediments to peaceful government. Ireland was a fairly simple situation. The drug dealing and bank robbing that was used to finance the revolution soon became the means for financing the revolutionaries themselves, and the political party morphed into an organized criminal gang. The terrorist attacks became directed at intimidating the population in general, who finally had enough and threw the terrorists out.

Terrorism in Israel pre-1948 came from both the Jewish and the Palestinian sides. Once the Palestine Liberation Organization gained political power in 1993 and gave up on terrorism, Hamas and its offshoots continued their attacks, effectively sewering possible peaceful negotiations. There will be endless discussion about the point at which the use of force became (or will become) counterproductive, but that is not what we are discussing in this essay. Our point is that terrorism starts for a good reason. Unfortunately, rebellion doesn’t always end in independence, and even if it does, sometimes the rebels don’t want to quit because they will lose their power.

What About Our Society?

Yes, I’m talking about Canada as well as the United States. In our own small way, we have the same society and the same problems, and the RCMP are at the moment in the process of hunting down two violent murderers who are probably white supremacists.

If those terrorist groups in so many countries of the world are now hailed as heroes who righted the wrongs of the past, how is history going to regard the terrorists of North America in the 21stCentury?

“Oh,” you say, “but these are different. These are white supremacists, and nobody supports them.”

I suggest history will not agree with you. The colonial powers (and the average citizens of those powers) could not see the effects of their imperialist policies on the citizens of the colonies they ruled. Likewise, our social and political leaders (and many of our citizens) cannot understand that our local terrorists did not create themselves. Their need to strike out against somebody, anybody, was created in their upbringing in the society that molded them.

Just as historical revolutionaries gain prominence at the exact moment that the ills of their system are beginning to show through the threadbare veil of popular morality, our home-grown terrorists are increasing in power and numbers at a time when our society is beginning to understand the effects of the moralistic, paternalistic, authoritarian ethos of our grandparents.

We are Still a Society of Bullies

As we are seeing in the United States, the proponents of authoritarian society see new morals threatening their way of life, and their fear makes them double down on their racist, xenophobic, misogynistic attitudes. At the same time, social media is full of the usual “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” garbage from our violent past.

If we look at the heroes of the anti-colonial revolutions, we will find people whose lives and families were affected adversely by the political oppression of their imperialistic overlords. These policies seemed normal at the time because they were normal: perhaps unfair, but accepted, especially by the winners.

If we look at the perpetrators of the acts of domestic terrorism, I suggest that the majority of them are damaged goods caused by an upbringing of mental, physical, or sexual abuse. And the abuse doesn’t need to be overt or criminal. A steady diet of minor authoritarian repression and denigration of self-worth for 15 years can break out in many different directions. If you disagree, try teaching high school for a few years, and observe the parents and how they handle their children. I have previously mentioned the woman who bragged to me in a self-satisfied way that her discipline method was to throw the hairbrush in the middle of the living room floor and declare, “As long as I’m bigger and stronger than you, you’ll do as I say.” She thought she was doing the right thing!

The Solution: Lower Penalties, Higher Enforcement

People who advocate tougher penalties reveal a deficiency in their parenting and social skills. In order to change behaviour, the smaller number of corrections you make, the more traumatic the punishment has to be, and it still won’t be effective. If every time you went over the speed limit your car stopped working for five minutes, nobody would speed. If every time you were caught speeding your car would be taken away from you, but only two or three speeders a year were caught, people would still speed. It’s human nature.

So in a parenting situation, if you take the time to monitor your child’s behaviour and make corrections every time the child errs, you will soon find yourself correcting less and less. This situation is aided by the fact that a certain amount of your child’s difficult behaviour is an attempt to gain your attention. Thus ignoring the child for hours or days and then coming down like a ton of bricks makes the situation worse, not better.

Add to this the fact that positive reinforcement is a more effective tool than punishment, and you can see where this leads: more positive attention, smaller corrections more often, natural consequences instead of punishment.

The Bottom Line

Contrary to what many people believe, children (and teenagers and those who grow up to be domestic terrorists) are just as often misbehaving because of your discipline as through lack of it. Yes, overindulging a child creates problems as well. But if you run across a young thug who is throwing his weight around, check the family. You’ll soon find the model he learned from.

The sooner we get rid of the idea that good parenting involves treating children like soldiers in boot camp, the sooner children will stop growing up to become killers.


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