The real reason engineers are overrepresented among Islamic terrorists

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.


12 Responses

  1. In this vein, humanities types often puff themselves up over their supposed superior “critical thinking” faculties, which is a load of hogwash – when engineers fail to think critically, a design doesn’t work, or it’s too expensive, or its performance is worse than a competitor’s. This immediate and brutal feedback (also found in the hard sciences – reality gets a say when theory is tested by experiment) fosters the sort of assumption-questioning that is often lacking in doctrinaire humanities departments.

    Furthermore, these sort of claims reveal that the folks behind this book have never actually interacted with engineers, or even observed them thoroughly. Less than a day into my first job I was (only half jokingly) told that “the datasheet is the manufacturer’s opinion” when asking a coworker why a part didn’t seem to be performing as it should. Likewise, ten minutes browsing the Linux kernel mailing list would disabuse these researchers of about half of their notions.

  2. […] The real reason engineers are overrepresented among Islamic terrorists […]

  3. I think that there may be a more straightforward response: The vast majority of the muslims terrorists are educated in the West or in scientific disciplines within their home countries, that are something similar to western outposts. that is the real correlation. It happens also accidentally, that they are educated in sciences. That is not because they are good or with a natural inclination to sciences, but because for muslims, science is the thing to learn from the West, the disciplines that made the West great and powerful to their eyes.

    It happens that they are muslims and happens that they are educated in the western universities. There is no or little muslims in humanities and they are more in the takiya side of yihad, and they enjoy respect by the politically correct establishment of their educative centers.

    In the other side the inmense majority of the universitary muslims educated in sciences experiment the vacuum and nonsense of daily life in the West or the westernized side of their countries. The reaction to such stupid way of life vary depending on the background. Young westeners either enter into the left path: nihilism, drugs , workhoolism etc others like me react against it and return to the faith of his parents and seek in traditional Christianity the meaning of life and fight modernity as much as we can.

    Young muslims living in the nonsense of the modern life are not very different. They follow one of both paths. In fact many leaders and suicide bombers were former nihilist drug abusers with a westerner lifestyle IN the West. Starting from Bin Laden. They end up hating the West because in the first place, nihilism is hateful and the West, that inherently exudes nihilism is worth to be hated.

    Second, as a consequence westerners both in the left and in the right hate the west (ultimately for the same reason, but leftists think that more of the same shit is the cure) and that is what the young muslims live in their educative centers and in the daily life. And third, their traditions tell them so.

    But the Muslims educated in the West have more reasons to blame it: the ones that came here to be educated (Not the new inmigrants) took this as their promised land. they came here to realize his personal utopia of economical prosperity, security and perhaps a form of peaceful meccan Islam island for them and their families, something different from the oppression, crime and insecurity of their homelands. Wealth and security with roots and traditions. They though that this was the heaven and their home countries, the hell.

    What they have found is some of the first and none of the second, like any of us. Who of us, in a moment of obfuscation, has not dreamed with attacking some of the western institutions that corrupt and destroy our families, our women, our children with indoctrination and propaganda disguised as news, fashion, education and good feelings? The islamists educated in the west lifestyle do it because up to certain level it “does follow” (everyone hate this modern nihilistic West except the elite and their herds) and it is ingrained in the refugee culture in which they find meaning of life.

  4. The Left makes no bones about its support of terror and certainly not those in the humanities.

    Alain Badiou, the Grand Old Man of the French Left and long-term Professor of Philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (the training school for university lecturers) famously declared: “Materialist dialectics assumes, without particular joy, that, till now, no political subject was able to arrive at the eternity of the truth it was deploying without moments of terror. Since, as Saint-Just asked: “What do those who want neither Virtue nor Terror want?” His answer is well-known: they want corruption – another name for the subject’s defeat.”

    Similarly, the Left Wing press is scathing in its attacks on “the sensitive liberals,” who “desire a decaffeinated revolution; 1789 without 1793.”

  5. Of course, most humans are intrinsically intellectually confused about almost everything abstract – due to be socially motivated.

    But beyond that I interpret this phenomenon above as a version of the idea that strong convictions that are not easily manipulated by the rulers are dangerous (which is true) *and therefore* the masses ought to be made unsure, unconfident about everything. ‘Skepticism’ (i.e. un-self-critical nihilism) often in the form of mushy and manipulable belief becomes approved hallmark of sophistication; while faith is relabelled fanaticism/ fundamentalism.

    It is typical of the monomaniacal and intrinsically unbalanced way in which atheists conceptualize virtue as the unbounded application of some principle. The Dawkins-esque atheists are an example: they point at Nazis, or the Spanish Inquisition, and say it was due to fanatical religious belief, and their response is to eliminate religion. That solves the problem of religious fanatics, sure enough…

    Thus we get an utterly confused and therefore unfanatical and docile population of headless chickens; who cannot reason about anything and cannot even plan for their own basic survival.

    The thing is, in order to do this to the masses (whose religious fanaticism they feared) the elites also, and first, had to do this to themselves; as can be seen in the intellectual discourse of the past 100 plus years and the veneration of skeptics and epicurians and hedonists generally.

    This has by now reached a point that anybody who applies simple reasoning, and who fails to display the expected and required state of bemused compliance on any topic, evokes something akin to moral panic.

    The situation can be seen in microcosm in the universities, where the humanities and social sciences display a mixture of massive condescension mixed with terror and horror towards to the STEM professors; except insofar as the STEM professors are able to display the requisite sense of relativistic confusion/ a.k.a. deference to the moral leadership of Liberalism.

    (My feeling, and Bonald will probably not agree here, is that the climate change agenda is a kind of litmus test in this regard. Anyone who is not either fooled by, or able to pretend to be fooled by, the claim of liberal elite world leaders to be able to predict and control the global climate by means of international economic and social regulation is self-identified as a threat. The sheer ludicrousness of the claim to be able to understand and control the world climate is so simple, so gross, so obvious; that accepting the ‘truth’ of the climate change analysis and agenda is a useful measure of necessary intellectual confusion. But it can also be seen that those who believe in the climate change agenda are *not* fanatical, because they are not clear headed. They do not act rationally or effectively to deal with the problem they claim to believe in – instead; in practice, their behaviour slots into the primacy of secualr Leftsim, of politically correct Liberalism – and therefore defaults to being self-serving, expedient. Unlike real fanatics, they take the easy route…)

  6. Bruce Charlton

    Modern scepticism (like much else) has its roots in the Cartesian philosophy.

    This posits a material world “out there,” going on independently of our thinking about it and the image or reflection of that world in our consciousness. In effect, it duplicates the world and the question inevitably arises, what is the relationship between the two?

    Our sense impressions are “unit and individual” but, as Bl John Henry Newman observes, “the mind not only contemplates those unit realities, as they exist, but has the gift, by an act of creation, of bringing before it abstractions and generalizations, which have no existence, no counterpart, out of
    it.” Inevitably, he concludes “When the nature and the history of many things are similar, we say that they have the same nature; but there is no such thing as one and the same nature; they are each of them itself, not identical, but like. A law is not a fact, but a notion.” Nowadays, we would say it is a “social construct.”

    The Post-Modernists have not been slow to point out that the way a particular phenomenon is classified or theorized is largely arbitrary.

  7. @M-PS Thanks – and apologies… on re-reading my comment it seems rather rambling and typo-ridden (it was finished rather abruptly, and without adequate revision, as my family responsibilities became too urgent to postpone).

    I tend to agree that Descartes made matters worse, but didn’t originate this phenomenon – nor does it seem plausible to me that something so pervasive could have its roots in a philosopher’s formulation. I presume that Descartes was seized-upon by those who wanted what he said to be true, or who recognized D was saying what they inarticulately felt.

    What I was trying to get across is the preference for complex emotivist incoherence over simple (logical) obviousness that I see all around among the elites – and which I see as fundamentally necessary for the persistence of modern ideology.

  8. Bonald,

    Thanks for this. I was an academic sociologist for a long time. Left it all behind a decade ago, occasionally feel remorse at having walked away from the only thing I was ever really good at- and then see something like this to remind me that I made the right choice after all.

    The linked abstract in the Chronicle, by itself, reveals too many things wrong with this book for me to address here, but the following is noteworthy because it’s sadly typical of so much bad soc-sci:

    “Gambetta and Hertog chose *proxy measures* for these traits among Western European, male college graduates polled by the European Social Survey.” (emph. mine)

    That would be because general social surveys don’t measure things like “disgust” (?!?) or the specifics of political ideologies (rather, they usually stick to generalities such as conservative/liberal self-identification and/or gauges of respondents’ feelings on a soupcon of topics of the day). They don’t directly measure these things because they *aren’t supposed to*. Hence the resort to…”proxy measures”. But how well can a survey instrument that isn’t designed to measure something to begin with measure that thing indirectly? The answer: Usually, not very.

    Mind you, the hypothesis that engineers, as a group, are more likely to lean to the Right is strongly plausible, and in an ideal world would deserve attention from more purely serious scholars- not to change the world or anything, but just to better understand the relationship between politics and social/professional structure.

    And speaking of changing the world:

    A well-known social theorist- himself a Marxist closely associated with “postmodernism”- characterized the role of ideology in the social sciences in terms of defining research problems in such a way as to command a solution that has been given in advance of the problem by political exigencies and agendas. In this particular case (and as you’re no doubt painfully aware as an academic) the obvious pre-fab “solution” consists of the usual buffet of diversitarianism: more mandatory female hires, more re-education (and, a fortiori, more re-education consultants, staff, admin, and $$$) and other efforts to retro-fit the “culture” of engineering so as to make it more “inclusive” (which, along with the foregoing, will entail the incentivization of various loyalty oaths and other public confession on the part of faculty, various efforts to purge the lingo and subculture of the field of real or imaginary deviationism, and so on to the point of nausea).

  9. Do social scientists not want engineers to have convictions, or do they just want more control over what those convictions are?

  10. […] superb bit of analysis and an ☀“Official” #NRx Best of the Week Honorable Mention☀: The real reason engineers are overrepresented among Islamic terrorists (and, it turns out, other crime-thinky […]

  11. […] The real reason engineers are overrepresented among Islamic terrorists (and other insufficiently progressive people). Not so much a failure to prog-indoctrinate as a […]

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