Social scientists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog have written a book trying to explain the intriguing fact that engineering graduates are strongly overrepresented among Islamic terrorists. In fact, they find it’s not just Islamists; “neo-Nazi”, “white supremacist”, and “neo-Stalinist” movements are also disproportionately filled with engineers. Readers familiar with the standard Frankfurt school slanders of conservatives won’t be surprised by the conclusions in the linked article. Engineering schools and terrorist movements both attract people who are uncomfortable with moral ambiguity, who don’t appreciate other peoples’ perspectives, who uncritically accept the social status quo and existing hierarchies. I really do wonder if social scientists sit back and read their own bullshit, or if cultural Marxism just goes on autopilot. The idea that the trigger-sensitive, microaggression witch-hunters in the humanities and social sciences have some exquisite appreciation for moral ambiguity is pretty funny in itself, but suggesting that Islamist recruits suffer from an uncritical acceptance of the status quo is just preposterous.
In fact, many of the comments in that article make little sense for the ostensible topic of the cause of terrorism, but make much more sense in terms of the actions they seem designed to motivate. Again, if Islamism and terrorism are the issues, why complain that engineers aren’t taught to question authority? What sense does it make to criticize an “ideology of depoliticization”? Wouldn’t such an ideology be great for someone who might otherwise be attracted to Islamism or some other “extremist” movement? Similarly, why worry about a drop in “public mindedness” and “social consciousness” of students during their engineering years? Muslim terrorists are extremely public/socially minded. Why worry about diluted general education requirements? What does that have to do with anything?
Here’s a clue.
Gambetta and Hertog chose proxy measures for these traits among Western European, male college graduates polled by the European Social Survey. The need for closure and embrace of hierarchy, for example, were correlated with survey questions that elicited opinions on social norms, immigrants, income inequality, and the likeliness of a terrorist attack. Disgust was indexed to how likely respondents were to disagree that “gays are free to live as they wish.”
Economics graduates often topped the list, the authors found, but engineering students most consistently scored higher across all of the measures.
By way of contrast, Gambetta and Hertog also explored which traits and disciplines applied to the opposite end of the political spectrum. Disgust seldom cropped up among those on the political left. And groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang, in 1970s Germany, and Italy’s Red Brigades included few engineers but attracted plenty of social-science and humanities majors.
(Let me rephrase that bit about disgust measures: social conservatives are better at math. Note also the assumption that no one could have reasons to think sodomy should not be tolerated.) Now I’m starting to see the pattern: what’s worrying about engineering students is their intellectual and political diversity. Because these programs don’t exclusively attract white-hating Leftists (unlike, say, anthropology), and because there is little political indoctrination in engineering programs or in the math and science classes they must take from other departments, ideological uniformity is never achieved. And, in fact, this does explain everything. The Red Brigades gets the humanities and social science majors because it affirms the basic worldview of the global Leftist order into which these students are indoctrinated. It is just more zealous in following accepted beliefs. Engineers, by contrast, are not indoctrinated into Islamism or white supremacy, but because they’re not strongly indoctrinated by their program at all, there’s a lot more scatter in their beliefs, so they end up being overrepresented in all these heretical movements.
There’s also this surprising admission:
Perhaps, then, the reason engineers turn up so frequently among jihadists is not because of their nationality or religion but because of how they think. Would it be going too far to say that?
The body of research on the psychology of terrorism remains too thin to draw many broad conclusions, says Jeffrey I. Victoroff, a clinical associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, who studies terrorism.
The need for closure, he says, is an example of systematic thinking, or a preference for conducting analysis without the distraction of emotions. In some cases, systematic thinking is accompanied by traits like self-aggrandizement and low levels of empathy. But that cluster of characteristics isn’t necessarily dangerous, he says. Maybe one person in five has them, he guesses. These people might seek rule-bound jobs, like engineering or computer science. They probably wouldn’t blow themselves up.
Do we see a hint that the problem with engineers is not just intellectual diversity but a tendency for abstract, systematic thinking? Old-school Marxism used to attract these types (as did Catholicism, Calvinism, Islam, and a number of other systematic worldviews), but they don’t thrive as well under Leftist orthodoxy, where staying out of trouble depends less on correctly reasoning from official Leftist beliefs and more on avoiding unwritten social taboos and anticipating when conspicuous displays of compassion or outrage are to be expected, skills which require empathy more than logic.
Of course, Dr. Victoroff is correct and reasonable to point out that a habit of systematic thinking isn’t necessarily dangerous. The whole article is filled with reassuring statements like this. But if systematic thinking isn’t a problem, why are we talking about it at all? The impression we are supposed to take away, although often not explicitly stated, is always clear enough. There are still majors where people can graduate without demonstrating the correct opinions and internalizing elite social taboos, and this is bad because it leads to things like al-Qaeda.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 11 Comments »