Psychology and terrorism: CAN we fight an ideology?

I’m usually a let-love-win kinda person. But I’m usually talking about our hearts and psyches and reactions to tragedy. I’m not SUCH a hippy that I think the solution to terrorism and mass-killings include galloping over a rainbow on our unicorns while cartoon hearts burst out of our butts.

Ulyssus Unicorn says ” Love is great. But so is wisdom.”

No, the “solutions” need to be calculated, intentional, well-thought-out actions and policies. Duh.

But gun control in itself is not what I wanted to write about (if you want my opinion, I’ll include it at the end. Feel free to argue it and alert the press if you have an easy answer.). I actually wanted to discuss the mindsets that fuel terrorism specifically….
It seems that we underestimate the power and necessity of using psychology when fighting movements that are rigidly rooted in blood-thirsty, righteous anger. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Hold up, Angelica. Come down off your unicorn and remove those idealistic glitter wings. We can’t actually fight an ideology; the only thing we an do is blast to pieces the people who spread them.”

If brainwashing and unhealthy psyches cannot be reversed, what the hell am I doing for a job?

The “atypical” psychological  features associated with a person who gravitates toward terrorism (or any extreme religious belief that condones violence and hate) are extreme rigid thinking, an obsessive quality to anger and “shoulds,” and self-righteous entitlement (to have others think and behave consistently with their rigidity). They are typically smart, educated, and not necessarily isolated, delusional, or brooding.  Their rigid belief system, fueled by anger and fear, equip them with an uncanny ability to detach from empathy and death-anxiety. (Read this.)

This dangerous cluster of psychological features is the “diathesis” of the “diathesis-stress model” that attempts to explain the behaviors of terror and other “righteous” violence. In other words, when a person possesses these psychological features, certain environmental “stressors” (anything from unrequited love, to being bullied, to poverty and violence blamed on the west, sometimes rightly so), can “trigger” extreme and demented behavior.

Knowing this, I think two things: Why aren’t we using this knowledge in gun ownership screenings, and why aren’t we using this knowledge to fight ideologies as fiercely as we fight those who spread them? I listen to stories such as this (mass messages and well-thought-out propaganda used to successfully  to get brainwashed guerillas to exit their forces) and read stories such as this (individual extremists shown alternative realities to eradicate extreme thinking) and this (kids brainwashed as a group to think differently through a mass-education program), and I hear about how the terrorists capitalize on people’s fears and the reality of a constantly destabilized environment, and I even think about how this one dude named Jesus single-handedly wiped out the presiding self-righteous rigidity by picking up some Buddhism in Asia and screaming it from the rooftops to a hurting population (of course the message got distorted eventually because people, but you get the idea.)…..And I wonder why is fighting an ideology not part of the conversation!!!

And I have to add, even though most of what Trump says makes my blood boil, he’s right about one thing: Muslims themselves being a vocal part of this fight against extremist ideologies, would be pretty psychologically powerful.

Just something to think about, from the psychologist who is always obsessed with psychology.

Ps. For the record, on this very gray subject filled with “yah buts” and “what-about-this’s,” gun regulations and psych/background checks need to be tighter, WAY tighter. Like, give everyone a one hour psych screening with normed data and interview three non-relative references. And if there is ANYTHING gray (like this dude joking to his coworkers about being a terrorist and history of domestic violence), ownership of a gun is denied and illegal ownership of a gun is automatically considered attempted murder. That’s my opinion. It’s not perfect, but haven’t heard a perfect solution yet.


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