You also wrote in Zero History that terrorism is “almost exclusively about branding but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteries.” How so?
If you’re a terrorist (or a national hero, depending on who’s looking at you), there are relatively few of you and relatively a lot of the big guys you’re up against. Terrorism is about branding because a brand is most of what you have as a terrorist. Terrorists have virtually no resources. I don’t even like using the word terrorism. It’s not an accurate descriptor of what’s going on.
What do you think is going on?
Asymmetric warfare, when you’ve got a little guy and a big guy. [There are] a lot of strategies that the little guy uses to go after the big guy, and a lot of them are branding strategies. The little guy needs a brand because that’s basically all he’s got. He’s got very little manpower, very little money compared to the big guy. The big guy’s got a ton of manpower and a ton of money. So this small coterie of plotters decides to go after a nation-state. If they don’t have a strong brand, nothing’s going to happen. From the first atrocity on, the little guy is building his brand. And that’s why somebody phones in after every bomb and says, “It was us, the Situationist Liberation Army. We blew up that mall.” That’s branding. By the same token, you get these other, surreal moments where they call up and say, “We didn’t do that one.” That’s branding. That’s all it is. A terrorist without a brand is like a fish without a bicycle. It’s just not going anywhere.
Did terrorism find the right time to shine because it’s so easy to disseminate your international brand?
Everything about the world we live in today furthers dissemination of brands or any other sort of information. It’s a rich time. Forget terrorism, it’s the age of branding. I’m becoming increasingly unwilling to call it terrorism. It plays into a particularly ignorant sort of rhetoric that is very widespread. If the terrorist can get you to think about what he’s doing as terrorism, you’re already in his win position.
The rest of it’s about the psychology of lotteries. It’s extremely unlikely that either you or I will ever be directly injured by any sort of terrorist event. It’s just as unlikely that either of us will ever win the big lottery. Or even a medium-size lottery. People buy tickets because of some evolutionary quirk in our pattern recognition that causes us to go, “Oh, I could win. I could win that.” But in fact, you can’t. Somebody will, but you won’t. That’s how terrorism works.
But the lottery is about hope. Terrorism is about fear.
Terrorism is a hopeful thing if you’re a freedom fighter. Terrorists and freedom fighters are two sides of the same coin. The freedom fighter lives in hope that he will overthrow the vast injustice of whoever. The people who live in the vast injustice can, if they choose, live in fear that the terrorist will come and do something bad to them. I don’t know. People are such suckers for the most part. The terrorists are smarter, in a way. The terrorists are at least playing a game that makes sense and has various win positions. If they can make you frightened, they’ve won. If they can make you deform your society in ways that will decrease everyone’s pleasure in life, they’ve won.
Ainda tem alguns trechos fodas sobre tecnologia:
Technology trumps politics. Technology trumps religion. It just does. And that’s why we are where we are now.
I’m sitting here at age 52 with almost all of my own teeth. That didn’t used to happen. I’m a cyborg. I’m immune to any number of lethal diseases by virtue of technology. I’m sitting on top of this enormous pyramid of technology that starts with flint hand-axes and finds me in a hotel in Austin, Texas, talking to someone thousands of miles away on a telephone and that’s just what we do. At this point, we don’t have the option of not being technological creatures.