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An observation for David Ronfeldt

[ by Charles Cameron — suggesting that the “how do we know when a radicalized thinker shifts into violent action mode?” question is frankly a koan ]
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stern task-master image borrowed from The Zen Priest’s Koan

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We’d been discussing on FB The Right Way to Understand White Nationalist Terrorism, and in particular this observation:

This movement is often called white nationalist, but too many people misunderstand that moniker as simply overzealous patriotism, or as promoting whiteness within the nation. But the nation at the heart of white nationalism is not the United States. It is the Aryan nation, imagined as a transnational white polity with interests fundamentally opposed to the United States and, for many activists, bent on the overthrow of the federal government.

and an idea occurred to me that seemed interesting enough for me to re-post it here on Zenpundit and Brownpundits:

We’re seeing a lot of discussion of how to foresee the switch from a terror-propensity thought into a terrorist act. Even in retrospect this is very difficult to manage, although lots of people elide the difference or feel constrained to separate the two, and managing an effective strategy to accomplish forewarning seems close to impossible.

I’d like to observe that the great leap between thought and act is in fact a leap across the mind > brain distinction, ie the “hard problem in consciousness”. > It’ds called the “hard problem” because it’s a question so basic that our best reaches of thought can’t stretch across the inherent paradox, a koan in effect.

Perhaps if we started with that koan, we could at least understand the “size” of the problem that predicting terrorist violence poses.

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I think that’s, technically, an audacious idea.

What the hell do I mean by that? It doesn’t threaten my physical well-being, nor, I’d suspect, national security. It’s “just a thought” — so what’s the big deal?

Well, it concerns a matter of immediate strategic and tactical concern, for one thing. And for another, it takes that strategic and tactical issue way past its present discursive parameters, and analyzes it to a level of fundamental abstraction — so much so that it invokes one of the few most basic unresolved issues in scientific thought, a veritable western koan.

That’s quite a reach, but I believe it’s a reach that illuminates the difficulty of the “strategic and tactical issue” from a fresh point of view that’s frustratingly so deep as to be virtually impenetrable.

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In Chalmers‘ words, the “hard” problem is:

how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience … the way things feel for the subject. When we see for example, we experience visual sensations, such as that of vivid blue. Or think of the ineffable sound of a distant oboe, the agony of an intense pain, the sparkle of happiness or the meditative quality of a moment lost in thought

You remember the kids’ mathematical saying, “three into two won’t go”? Well here’s a case of “mind into brain won’t go” in the sense of Chalmers‘ hard problem.

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Leonard koan, yes, yes — from Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

2 Responses to “An observation for David Ronfeldt”

  1. David Ronfeldt Says:

    Hi Charles — What prompted our exchange over on Facebook was seeing an article that observed the following:
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    “This movement is often called white nationalist, but too many people misunderstand that moniker as simply overzealous patriotism, or as promoting whiteness within the nation. But the nation at the heart of white nationalism is not the United States. It is the Aryan nation, imagined as a transnational white polity with interests fundamentally opposed to the United States and, for many activists, bent on the overthrow of the federal government.”
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    About which I noted: I’m attracted to their idea of identifying with the Aryan nation more than with America because it amounts to an enormous expansion of spatial horizons, and I’ve figured before that a huge expansion in spatial, temporal, and//or agency horizons may help explain radicalization.
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    As for your calling attention to the switch from thought to action, I’d just reiterate that, however it occurs neurologically, it has to go through that triplex cognition module(?) in the mind — that space-time-agency set of orientations — that I mentioned.
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    You refer to the switch occurring in terrorist mentalities. A key concern. But lately I’ve also been concerned about an evolution I see occurring in a distant friend’s mentality — he’s becoming evermore attracted to conspiracy theories, including QAnon, and has become newly pro-Trump as well, including believing Trump will win the 2020 election by huge margins. As for the switch from thought to action, what would he do, for example, if it’s not clear that Trump wins the next election, and if Trump refuses to leave the White House and calls on his adherents to come defend him by surrounding it, perhaps armed.

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks for bringing the contextual matter over here, David.
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    QAnon’s an interesting phenomenon. having no discernible source but a perfect claim (“intelligence”) to fit the credibility of those so disposed. I have to admire the ingenuity, and wish I knew (and could prove) from whence it came. But that’s for others, with other skill-sets.
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    The business of global (“totalizing”) spatial expansion you focus on is fascinating — Judaism is the only spatially limited Abrahamic religion, isn’t it? Christianity at least theoretically has an infinite reach, though “high” Episcopalians might not really want to act on it. But the Great Commission and its actionable form, the 10/40 window.. And there’s even that James Blish novel about Jesuit in deep space who arrives at an inhabitable planet with apparently Edenic properties.. And then Isklam — clearly totalizing in the eyes of the jihadists, and arguably also among those Richard Landes calls “the Calphaters”.
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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10/40_window
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXpMvUpbq8U
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