The number one book Hunter is getting recommended right now is Tribe by Sebastian Junger. It's an amazing book. Mostly, it's about why US soldiers often have such a hard time reintegrating back into US society. It's pretty easy to understand. You go off to war and you have a group of people who will die for you, who look out for you and who are engaged in a great mission together. And then you come back and there's no sense of shared purpose. In war, people have tribe. In the modern world, most of us don't. And when people don't have tribe, they go looking for it; they try and create it and that's a big part of why you have ISIS.
What is it that tribes provide? They help provide food and defense against violent death. Modern societies do that incredibly well. Way better than hunter-gatherer tribes ever did. But tribes also provide belonging, shared purpose, community and a magical thing called dignity. When you bring back food, the tribe (your family) recognizes what you have done and they're grateful for it. You feel appreciated and that is no small thing. In fact, William James, the Founder of American Psychology, said "The deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated." Do you feel appreciated in your life? A lot of people don't. A lot of people feel like they get no respect. And that can make them very angry and resentful. And that's when they start or join groups like ISIS.
ISIS provides its followers with many things: sex slaves, treasure and the chance to get shot at. However, besides the real life video game aspects, it also provides its followers (if not the women unfortunate enough to live in the region) with dignity and purpose. ISIS succeeds as a movement because the societies its followers have come from have failed to satisfy that deepest principle in human nature: the desire to be appreciated.
One of Bryan's favorite quotes is from Amos Oz. It's about how the key to beating a bad idea is to provide a better idea. However, the full quote is instructive:
"But Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians. No idea has ever been defeated by force — not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened with tank treads and not by marine commandos. To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one."
No idea has ever been defeated by force. It might be appealing to think that you can just make ISIS' ideas go away by bombing them out of existence but nothing makes ideas fascinating and intriguing like trying to kill the people who have them. Making martyrs doesn't destroy ideas; it gives them power. Boko Haram, for example, was a nothing movement until its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody in 2009. At the time, Alhaji Boguma, a government official in the region, said that the "wave of fundamentalism" had been "crushed." In practice, Mohammed Yusuf was like Obi Wan Kenobi. He was struck down and became more powerful than Ahlaji Boguma could possibly imagine. An angry, ranting cleric with a crappy world view was transformed into a perfect symbol. And so, if we really want to defeat ISIS or Boko Haram, we need to "offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one." The problem is no one is really doing that.
Imagine being born in Libya. You now have a Libyan passport which pretty much means your only opportunities are in Libya…where there are pretty much no opportunities. In order to get married–which in the Muslim world is your only real path to sex–you have to provide a lot of stuff. Depending on what kind of Libyan you are that might mean a house, a car and a washing machine or it might mean a bunch of camels. Either way, it's not something you're likely to be able to afford because the wealth of the country is controlled by a tiny number of families who use their power to prevent others from outcompeting them. Basically, you're screwed and with no chance of getting laid. What you want is an awesome house, a beautiful wife and maybe most importantly dignity. You want to contribute to society and be recognized for that contribution. Except, the international community constantly tells you your country is a sh*thole and your people suck. No dignity there. The success of ISIS isn't that it is a good idea. It's that it's basically the only idea that is being targeted at people that our global society values so little that we don't even bother to think about them until they create problems for us all.
This problem isn't just a Libyan or a Nigerian problem. It's not even just a problem among marginalized Muslim communities in the West. It is a problem for an increasing number of people all over the world. People whose culture is geared towards Industrial Age factory work are finding that they can't make a living in an Information Age economy. They can't get dignity. And so, they want to do the only thi