Controlling terrorism through the nudging of social interactions

Controlling terrorism through the nudging of social interactions

By Asmita Ghosh

International terrorism is a complex social phenomenon and like every other social phenomenon, it is a slave to the evolving social behaviour and its ever-changing dynamics.

Terrorism is an epidemic that has been plaguing the world for quite some time with serious socio-economic repercussions. While the proper textbook definition of Terrorism still remains somewhat ambiguous, it always does include the reference to indiscriminate violence. Twenty years after George W. Bush’s famous “War on Terror” speech and millions of dollars spent and countless lives lost we still aren’t close to putting a stop to terrorism. Counter-terrorism practices have proved to be futile and have only further aggravated the epidemic of violence and destruction. Perhaps it is now time to look past military solutions and delve into the socio-cultural dynamics of terrorism.

Time has been a testament to evolving social behaviour and how societal dynamics have changed with them. International terrorism is a complex social phenomenon and like every other social phenomenon, it is also a slave to this evolving social behaviour and its ever-changing dynamics. For example, a child growing up in a racist household or neighbourhood has a higher chance of growing up to be a racist adult compared to one being raised in a mixed neighbourhood.

Social dynamics that influence terrorism work in a bidirectional manner that is environmental changes influence social behaviour thus again modifying the surrounding environment.

Influencing social behaviour with certain nudges can help alleviate the incidence of terrorism by bringing about a change in the environment of an individual that encourages them to make choices modifying the individual’s behaviour thus consequently influencing the social environment. Evidence in neurosciences also points to the fact that the human brain is malleable and can be influenced to react differently when the environment around them changes. This is also verified in several studies and real-life instances such as people who knew Muslims were more accepting towards them than those who didn’t and people who lived in multi-racial neighbourhoods are more tolerant and accepting of people different from them.

Social dynamics that influence terrorism work in a bidirectional manner that is environmental changes influence social behaviour thus again modifying the surrounding environment.

It has been observed that individuals tend to form distinct social groups when they have certain similar characteristics such as caste, religion, economic conditions, race, ethnicity, sexuality or other markers like turbans as worn by Sikh men or burqas worn by Muslim women. Even ideological or philosophical differences are also a reason for the formation of these groups. These distinct social groups have a tendency to be intolerant or averse to other individuals having different characteristics evident from the racial hatred observed in America or other Western countries, xenophobia against the Asian community in various parts of the world and the aversion towards Muslims in many communities etc.

Terrorism

The formation of these social groups accompanied with the wariness or hatred towards other groups leads to the formation of ghettos which minimizes inter-community exchange and makes an individual more susceptible to misinformation. Evidence from American neighbourhoods shows that these ghettos and inter-community segregation exists primarily in white-resident neighbourhoods with the white share of the population being 75% inside small metropolitan are and 80% outside those areas. These numbers show that the racial gap in these neighbourhoods have not closed and the experience in these neighbourhoods is far different than the national demographic profile would suggest.

This ghettoization leads to the generalization of the entire community based on any single isolated adverse incident and further enforces the already existent bias, thus escalating the intensity of hatred. Even if a member of the community does have a positive interaction with someone belonging to a different community, this interaction doesn’t pose an easier way to favourable judgements because it will be written off by other members of the community owing to their inherent bias.

Nudges in the right direction and implemented in the right part of the social dynamics can nip the bud of terrorism before it blooms.

Nudges in the right direction and implemented in the right part of the social dynamics can nip the bud of terrorism before it blooms. Forcing members of two hostile communities to live together often proves counter-effective, however, implementing inter-community interactions in a slow and progressive manner might salvage something out of this impractical suggestion.

For example, placing a Muslim/Black police officer in a typically Hindu/White locality will lead to several isolated inter-community interactions and slowly chip away at the prevalent bias thus leading to a positive generalization of the other community. Cultural exchange programs organised by different institutions also help in breaking down similar sort of hostilities that are prevalent due to historic national rivalries like the Indo-Pak rivalry and many more and also help the youth to engage in a more diversified environment thus promoting tolerant and inter-community interactions from the very beginning.

Promoting social responsibility in the corporate sector can also help reduce the incidence of terrorism especially those induced due to economic disparity.

Promoting social responsibility in the corporate sector can also help reduce the incidence of terrorism especially those induced due to economic disparity. The rich can earn the trust of the poor by investing in the well-being of their communities and this will result in an increase in demand due to the growth of income in those communities thus gradually enabling to reduce the economic disparity and stop them from colliding with Naxalites and other alike terrorist organisations.

All of these social nudges when appropriately administered can help ameliorate inter-community tension and have a positive impact on terrorism. But since human behaviour is always evolving, any social dynamic is not eternal and it is up to us to grow with the evolving world and foster and promote a more diversified and accepting society which will eventually help reduce the incidence of terrorism.

Also Read: Recalibrated Chinese expansionism to continue; adding worry to India

(Asmita Ghosh is a student of Economics from Calcutta University with an interest in Political Economy, specifically the problems involving modern-day socio-economic issues in developing countries.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

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