Saturday, March 29, 2008

Evolution and Suicide Terror

Drawing from a variety of studies, evolutionary psychologist Andy Thomson has developed a hypothesis of suicide terrorism. He says we can understand three aspects behind the motivation:

  • The capacity for male-bonded coalitionary violence against innocents is as old as our species and may date to our common ancestry with chimpanzees.
  • The capacity for suicide exists in men and women alike. It is not necessarily the product of illness. Some suicides are the product of depression and social rejection. Other suicides are an attempt at "retaliation bargaining" waged from a position of powerlessness -- to force change from an enemy.
  • Our evolved mechanisms which make us vulnerable to religious beliefs are the same mechanisms which can be exploited to motivate suicide terrorism. Thomson asserts that religion, more than any other ideology, is able to hijack our capacity for male coalitionary violence and suicide.
Thomson discusses his theory in the latest podcast of Humanist Network News. He also presented his findings at the Atheist Alliance International conference in September. Thomson's paper on the subject [Word Document].

The podcast also touches on the work of Robert Pape, author of the book, "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism"

They also discuss an interesting common denominator among male suicide terrorists -- immaturity and inexperience with sexuality.

This aspect of terrorism was identified years ago by comedian Marc Maron.

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