The conventional wisdom holds that violence and terrorism are the inevitable consequences of poverty and ignorance. Cass Sunstein, who teaches law at Harvard, writes that the evidence suggests something entirely different:
Most extremists, including those who commit violence, are not poor and do not lack education.
Suicide bombers are likely to have more income and more education than most people in their home nation, research shows. A few years after the attacks of Sept. 11, people in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey with higher than average incomes were no less likely to say that suicide attacks against Westerners were justified. People with more education were actually more likely to reach that conclusion.
What matters is the way they think and what they think:
Princeton economist Alan Krueger says: “To understand who joins terrorist organizations, instead of asking who has a low salary and few opportunities, we should ask: Who holds strong political views and is confident enough to try to impose an extremist vision by violent means?” That’s the right question. And at least part of the answer comes from social dynamics, as illuminated by some old, and seemingly far afield, experiments in group psychology.
Birds of an intellectual feather tend to flock together -- and the more extreme the feather, the stronger the bond:
Writing in 1998, Russell Hardin, a political scientist at New York University, drew attention to the “crippled epistemology of extremism,” by which he meant to emphasize how little extremists know. Focused on Islamic fundamentalists, Hardin was concerned about what happens “when the fanatic is in a group of like-minded people, and especially when the group isolates itself from others.”
The same could be said of governments with extreme agendas. Enough said.