Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Individuals and Lone Wolves

I have been thinking a lot lately about something that political science generally does poorly--individuals. So, I am poorly equipped and pretty frustrated.  But events every day teach us that governments can influence groups, but not everyone.  That there are individuals out there, for good and bad, that have an outsized influence.  Three examples of very different kinds today:
  • Yesterday, I blogged about Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 Norwegians last year, and about the effort to learn from the experience.
  • Last night, a movie promoted by Terry Jones, the minister of intolerance and hate, led to violence in Egypt and Libya including the deaths of the US Ambassador to Libya and three others.  Just awful.  I joked online that Jones should go and meet this anti-fans.  Yes, we have freedom of speech, but with freedom comes responsibility. I cannot think right now of someone using the freedom of speech more irresponsibly than this one guy.
  • President Karzi of Afghanistan is also being irresponsible this morning, highlighting the movie and not condemning the violence.
Governments and societies can compel, persuade, and influence people to engage in responsible behavior, but what can we do about individuals who do not mind doing damage to others?  I have no solutions and few theories.  I raised a few yesterday at CSIS and was quickly countered by those who know what they are doing.  For instance, I pondered raising tarrifs on the chemicals used to make bombs.  Sure, there are alternative uses, but could we raise taxes on imports of small quantities of the stuff (whatever it is) and waivers for established companies?  Breivik was running out of money--as a lone wolf, he had no apparent financial support.  Could we have bankrupted him ahead of time by making the various components of his plans more expensive?  Can we come up with import schemes so that dual-use goods are too expensive for random individuals?

A second was more of wishful thinking than anything else.  Perhaps we do not need to worry so much about how creative and ingenius lone wolves can be.  It seemed to me that they are mostly not that creative--Breviek not only plagiarized in his manifesto but clearly borrowed from the AQ's playbook.  Let's worry less about exotic attacks and focus on the basic's--improved explosive devices and shooting sprees.  If we can figure out ways to deal with these, then we can focus on the stranger, higher tech stuff (improvised drones or what not). 

Anyhow, I have more questions than answers.  Any suggestions?

1 comment:

J.Collins said...

As you mention, it is incredibly hard to deal with lone wolves. The standard 'vigilant citizenry' combined with police/intelligence services monitoring of 'hate' groups/websites online and few public demonstrations seems about the only way to help get a grip on some on these people.

But sometimes these folks are just going to get through and in free societies backed with 24/7 digital technology it is becoming easier and easier for them to obtain the know how to carry out the their twisted ideas. Your earlier post on Breviek I think touches on another area to counter the effects of these people and that is emergency response: what resources do we have and how can we apply them in an sufficient enough matter to lessen the carnage these folks carry out.

Just my thoughts.