In my last article, I wrote about a form of behavior that has become a significant vehicle for resistance to the technological transformation of living environments. Corruption, which was used since the beginning of human history as a vehicle for making intense though disruptive imprints on human fields of experience, is particularly useful for people in more traditional cultures who find that the necessary interaction with modern machines and technological environments in today’s world enforces strictures and rigid patterning on their behavior that they find impossible to tolerate. Rigidity in behavioral rules imposed by technology compels these people to use moral rules as an area where they can create greater freedom for their behavioral expression. By bending and breaking moral rules, these particular people who live in more traditional cultures can feel vibrantly alive in the imprints that they make and receive in the situations that they create. These people have a particularly difficult time dealing with a scarcity of organic surfaces on which to make, preserve, and receive imprints. Again, I want to emphasize that being technology-resistant in terms of not letting technology model or mirror behavior for them does not mean that technology is not used in the service of corruption. Certainly it is used a great deal in weapons, as well as on the Internet. However, it is my thought that the presence of a lot of modern technology in the environment pushes some more traditional people to want to stand apart from being robotized by participating even more in the intense disruptive imprints of corruption. And as I have pointed out, these traditional people do tend to cluster in certain cultures where corruption today is particularly rampant.
However, there is a paradox here. Although corrupt behavior can have very destructive effects on the society in which it exists, it cannot totally destroy the society, or there would be no core moral base against which to measure its deviation from the norm. Also, corrupt behavior is parasitical on its host society, and no parasite has any desire to kill off its host entirely. Corrupt people in traditional societies would kill themselves off, if they killed off the society in which they lived. Such people require victims for their misbehavior.
This is very different from another group of non-conforming traditional people. In some traditional societies, there are people who want to totally destroy the modern societies that create the technology that is, in the eyes of these people, overly constricting and patterning of their behavior and that diminishes the number of available organic surfaces for making, receiving, and preserving imprints. Rather than feeling alive by feeding off of and juxtaposing themselves next to an orderly social base of people in a modern technological society, this second kind of traditional outsider feels alive by attempting to totally destroy the people in the orderly social base. This second group of traditionalists consists of people that the citizens of modern technological society designate as terrorists. These terrorists are, in turn, divided into two groups. There are those terrorists who see themselves as soldiers who carry out ongoing attacks on modern technological societies and thus feel alive through a series of intense highly destructive imprints. These terrorists are able to temporarily tolerate receiving the imprints from modern technological society as they attempt to destroy it.
Then there are those terrorists who literally cannot tolerate what they experience as horrible sensory distortion from modern technological society. These terrorists are uncomfortable with the rigidity and over-patterning of behavior created by the necessity of involvement with modern technological processes, with the lack of of organic surfaces on which to make, preserve and receive imprints, and with the moral freedom demonstrated by many citizens of modern technological society in areas like sex, alcohol and drugs. As has been discussed before, this morally free behavior of mainstream citizens in technological society with regard to these recreational activities is, in turn, the reaction of these people to sensory distortion. Meanwhile, the influence, both direct and indirect, of this behavior on the second group of terrorists makes living for them even in the same world as this modern social environment intolerable. Suicide bombers are people who make and preserve one significant imprint on their field of experience in the process of taking their own lives. They prepare meticulously for death with a powerful surrogate immortality - the suicidal destruction of many other people- and then they die.
Many people focus on the well-developed afterlife that acts as a significant motivation for Islamic suicide bombers. But I would like to suggest that the notion of leaving a significant imprint on this world is also important. This is a period of history when the suicide bombers perceive that modern technology, through its major agent Western society, has contaminated everything and made it impossible for them, the bombers, to leave any other kind of imprint. Even though Islamic terrorists use modern technology as a means for carrying out their terrorist acts, their dream reverts back to a restoration of medieval Islamic rule. The dream is a reconfiguration of a pre-modern-technology past. A past that gives them greater behavioral freedom away from the rigid behavioral obligations of modern machine operation and greater behavioral control in the area of everyday social interaction. Also, a greater opportunity to leave the kind of intense organic imprints that they are accustomed to leave.
Granted that suicide bombing is also used as a vehicle of war in the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that is going on in the Middle East today. It is primarily used by the Sunnis against the Shiites. I would, nevertheless, say that this is a conflict that is intended to decide who is going to be the dominant theological group in creating the medieval Islamic theocracy that will end up ruling over the “decadent” modern technological West. The war over theological dominance is still influenced by the question of who will be best suited to conquer the West..
The interpretation I have made in the last two articles on these more extreme discontents of modern technological society has some significant consequences. There are very large groups of people in this world who are not accommodating themselves very well to technological sensory distortion and the loss of organic surfaces for making, preserving and receiving new organic imprints. Not only are they not accommodating themselves, but the sensory distortion makes these groups more predisposed to performing acts that are highly destructive to societies in which they live. It is true that people who fall into the corrupt category are not directly out to destroy their host societies. But they do enfeeble these societies and even to some extent paralyze them. Ordinary citizens are afraid to go out at night as a result of crime. Although they do not directly destroy a society, corrupt people damage the spirit of their society.
If one major reason for the growth in corruption and/or terrorism in certain societies today relates to rapid technological change, then conventional attempts to get rid of these problems with police and military methods may not work completely. Rather than simply a criminal conflict or a religious war, what we are dealing with today is an experiential war, a war about who has the right to determine the way we experience and engage the world around us.
Both the corrupt people and the terrorists represent values on the surface that civilized people cannot permit to take over in their fields of experience. And yet underneath these values, on one level, there exist unusually strong sensitivities to harmful situations that are affecting the living environments in which all of us dwell. Both of these groups come from more traditional societies that, to a greater or lesser extent, are outside of the mainstream of technological innovation that is taking over the world. However, in the case of corrupt drug traffickers, they are intimately intertwined with those people in modern technological societies that are consumers of drugs. I have previously discussed how the use of drugs is a vehicle for dealing with sensory distortion.
And perhaps we have become strangely intertwined with the terrorists as well. In our ongoing war with the terrorists, which is not fought like a conventional war and doesn’t seem to have the possibility to end like a conventional war, we have found a form of deadly corrosive overstimulation to pull us out of the numbness of our vacuum experiential base. Articles in the newspapers and searches in public buildings and at airports keep us extremely alert and abrasively alive.
In my opinion, if we want to rid ourselves of both of these groups, we have to develop a new way of assessing what they truly represent. If I am right, some of their underlying sensitivities and concerns are simply more extreme versions of things that more mainstream people are experiencing as well. Maybe only by dealing with the deeper problems do we have any chance of dealing effectively with corruption and terrorism.
© 2012 Laurence Mesirow