I study cybernetics and network behaviour. This is, put simply, looking at the ways in which information, money, resources, ideas and behaviours are transferred across a system. I can do this using data, such as looking at how many people within a system can speak English, or by analysing the differentials in behaviour between different groups.
This is useful, because as a social scientist I can observe who is thinking what, how that is moving or catching on, and to what extent. I can also observe who is most likely to hold ‘outsider’ views and potentially implement models to contain dangerous behaviour.
Here is an example:
2o people live on an island.
Of those people, 15 talk together frequently.
5 stick closely together and are suspicious of the other group.
The 5 people will now experience what is known as ‘ideological drift’.
This means they will develop a different, smaller network between the 5 of them, to the 15 others. This will not ‘infect’ or spread to the other group as they do not mix.
Over time, the 5 people will hold very different views to the 20.
As you can imagine, this is a pretty normal situation in a society. There are different religions, different cultures, different identities and different languages and educations. All this means that what you think is very heavily impacted by who you talk to, who you mix with and who is sharing ideas with you. This is called Actor Network Theory: ANT. We function within a network and are heavily impacted by the supply of information we recieve.
Pretty basic stuff, once you get past the long words.
Once I analyse society through this model, it becomes very obvious that small, inward looking groups who do not have access to a wider frame of ideas, people and cultures, become more at risk of extremely diverse behaviour to the mainstream society. We see this a lot in ‘fringe’ sub cultures: jihadists, the EDL, devout religious groups. They do not mix, so are not exposed to ‘normal’ actor networks. Thus, they do not share the views, ethics and information of wider society.
The bigger your group, and the more diverse, the more in check with ‘normal’ you are. This means you have access to the same education as most people, the same sources of information, the same one-to-one experience of other groups, and the same sense of what it is to be ‘British’ or ‘Human’. The smaller and smaller your identity network is, the more resentful to outside ‘norms’ you tend to be. We can see this in UKIP statistics: internalised, rural, white, older communities who did not function in a mixed urban network voted in huge numbers against immigration.
The problem really starts when you get a maladaptive behaviour (in this sense, one that can cause damage or harm to a wider society) within a small network. Here, with no wider network to denormalise the maladaptive behaviour (say, terrorism) these groups bounce more and more anti-social ideas off eachother and form a metanarrative (a way of seeing the world, and behaving in it) that is drastically different to the wider reality. Because of this, no one can counter act the slippery slope to more isolationism, more extreme behaviours and more paranoia. In these systems, what is true, or normal, is extremely different to wider society.
Put bluntly: if you let these groups function outside a normal education, intergration rate or ethical discussion network, you are going to see them behaviour in more and more extreme ways.
So how can we stop this?
It’s incredibly hard to dismantle internalised systems. This is because they have already formed a network that is suspicious of wider society (such as the mainstream muslim population, or even wider British society). They don’t have contact, or desire contact, with ‘outsiders’ and regard anything they say as invalid if it goes against their normal thinking. That’s why deradicalisation programs, or anti-racism programs, are incredibly hard to pull off effectively.
However, some things can definitely help. The ideas below all come from counter-terrorism research:
- Being more inclusive of marginal populations.
Accepting people of different races and belief systems into community projects and normal festivals/group activities, and actively encouraging it, breaks the cycle of internalisation into their own groups.
2. Plan how demographics are implicated into public systems.
If you enforce physical intergration- that is mixed schools, mixed housing and mixed religious communities, you will definitely see fewer ‘outsider’ groups. Again, this breaks internalisation.
3. Be proactive against racism and marginalisation.
I’m not blaming anyone for terrorism, but we must be proactive against the causes of internalisation. Any behaviours that encourage group segregation enormously increase chances of group internalisation.
4. Educate women within incoming marginal groups.
Studies have shown globally that women who are educated and put into mainstream employment not only reduce poverty levels in a group but increase integration and their children’s prospects of intergrating and being educated. This is because women tend to be the main carers and educators of children, and ethical enforcers.
5. Heavily monitor indviduals who are at risk of internalisation.
Young adults, particularly young men, from poor backgrounds with limited potential in terms of employment or reproductive fitness (finding a mate) are statistically far more likely to be drawn into ‘identity’ culture- that is fringe activity that gives them a sense of worth and power. It is vital that society watches out for signs of grooming in these individuals and actively promotes opporunities for these young men to receive education, training or even just meeting young women. A study by Robin Dunbar found that men are radically less likely to commit violent crime or be drawn into gang activity if they have a girlfriend or wife. Even if they are previous offenders.
Again, I’m not blaming Britain for terrorism. The only people to blame for terror are terrorists. But we must be proactive and self reflective on how we can end this. As the cybernetic models suggest, more needs to be done.