Bringing Sanity to Politics

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"Tolerance and trying to understand others, until recently a luxury, has today become a necessity.

"This is because: unless we can realize that we and others are generally behaving as we do because of inculcated biases over which we have no control while we imagine that they are our own opinions, we might do something which could bring about the destruction of all of us. 

"Then we will not have any time ta all to learn whether tolerance is a good or a bad thing."

               - Idries Shah in Reflections

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WE ARE ALL FAMILIAR these days with what are called ‘hidden camera shows’ where pranks played on unsuspecting people are recorded surreptitiously for entertainment purposes. One of the classic hidden camera situations is one in which an engineless car is pushed down a road towards a garage by accomplices. The driver uses the momentum achieved to swing the car into the garage and park up. He or she then gets out and seeks help, explaining that the car has “just broken down”. When it is discovered to have no engine bafflement, disbelief and hilarity ensue. Because it’s obvious that a car with no engine is an impossibility. It makes no sense. It can never work and can never have worked. It is absurd.

Imagine, for a moment, how much more absurd the situation would be if the mechanics in this prank failed to notice that the car had no engine, failed to even look under the hood/bonnet, and set about trying to mend the car, to make it ‘go’, by paying attention to various visible and superficial aspects: its colour, bodywork, windows, wheels, seats, dashboard etc. They wouldn’t stand a chance of fixing it.

The Conciliator's Guild

The Conciliators Guild was set up to introduce the idea that something just as fundamental is missing, at every level, from our politics: a vital piece without which it cannot, and will never, properly work. This component must be recognised, understood and worked with in accordance with its own inherent laws, if we are ever going to stand a chance of sorting out the increasingly chaotic and conflicted global situation that we see unfolding daily.

That "missing piece" is the nature of the human organism itself - and the innate needs that underlie and explain all that we think and do. Beneath the thick surface layers of our immensely varied cultural differences we share a universal, common ground. And we need to learn to work together, as a species, at this level, in order to make things run more smoothly on our precious little blue planet.

Why do we do what we do?

The human givens approach observes that all human behaviour is driven by a set of innate needs that are necessary for our well-being and survival. There is a difference between wants and needs. If we don’t get what we truly need we suffer and eventually die. Nobody ever died through not getting what they wanted unless this also happened to be, or to contain, something that they genuinely needed too (along with caffeine and alcohol, coffee and wine also contain water).

We do the things we do because it seems to us, at the time, rightly or wrongly, that our needs will be met by so doing. If we could tune into our survival brains we would be able to hear the simple logic of their decision making processes:
 

  • "If I walk up this steep hill I will get food, drink and company because there is thriving little restaurant at the top." 
  • "If I take my dog to the park at 8 a.m. we will both get some exercise, and there will be lots of people there doing the same thing so I can have lots of nice chats!"  
  • "If I leave the village and move to the city I will find a mate, and friends, and have fun, and get a job that is meaningful and fulfilling." 
  • "If I get out of bed again today, and do that job that I hate, I’ll be able to pay the mortgage and feed my family."  
  • "If we annihilate that neighbouring city with bombs our enemies will all be killed and we will feel safe once more."  
  • "If I leave this cold, materialistic, selfish country and join Islamic State I will get everything I need in a warm climate: a sense control; a community of like-minded people; lots of attention; friendship and intimacy; status; a sense of achievement; a real feeling of meaning and purpose.” 


What do we need, and what's getting in our way?

The human givens approach explains that mental illness, from mild feelings of unease to full-blown psychosis, is driven by stress, and ‘stress’ is what happens when an organism’s innate needs are not met in a balanced way. Mental illness is therefore ‘cured’ by reducing or removing stress from a person’s life. Which needs are not being met right now? Why are they not being met? What can be done to remove the obstacles currently preventing these needs from being met? When innate needs are met people calm down. Mental illness evaporates. We feel good. We thrive. And one major obstacle that is preventing needs from being met in the world today - that is driving conflict and vitiating global politics - is an inability to see past biases and cultural differences, and recognise our common humanity.

Water is a fundamental human need. It is hard to imagine any sane person disagreeing with this statement. Without water a human being can survive for a maximum of around one (increasingly uncomfortable and distressing) week. The need for water is one of the things we have in common with most of the other organisms.  Given the truth of the preceding statements, it's hard to understand how the following situation, for example, could have happened. It is an instance, as they say, worth a thousand.

An illustrative example

For the past 40 years or so Turkey has been creating dams in order to irrigate crops in the southeast of the country. The industrious Turks have done a great job of looking after themselves. Agricultural production in that area of their country is booming. But, as a consequence, water flow into neighbouring Syria and Iraq has been significantly reduced. Turkey is consuming far more than its fair share of water in the area, and starving its neighbours, who are suffering greatly as a result. And it is water shortages that are, according to many, exacerbating conflict in the area.

What is it that is allowing the Turks to behave like this? It can’t be the fact that they are unaware of the consequences of their actions for their neighbours. Nor can it be because there is something peculiarly wrong with them. Travellers to Turkey generally tell of stories of spontaneous hospitality and warmth. It can only be a failure to recognise their neighbours as beings of the same type. When we behave like this towards other people we are secretly (or not so secretly) thinking:

“You are not like me therefore you are not really human. You don’t really count.”

The Conciliator’s Guild is collaborating with Human Givens College to present a new course entitled:

Fear and Political Chaos: How to bring clarity to societal upheaval through the lens of innate human needs

The course explains how the ideas raised in this article can be put into practice. You can find out more about it here.

John Zada
Beyond Culture

If one is working on a project with Israelis and Palestinians, and an email is sent to ten colleagues from each side, nine out of 10 Israelis will rapidly answer, while only one out of 10 Palestinians will respond.

Therefore, Western diplomats, with working habits heavily centered around email, will have a tendency to engage the Israelis more, resulting in an increased impact of their views, as well as an unconscious sense of familiarity with the Israelis – unlike with the Palestinians who will seem disengaged.

Among other more well-known factors, this is a hidden reason for a traditional Western bias towards Israel: its work culture is Western.

Palestinians, like many Arabs, prefer a direct and personal work mode, relying far more on human rather than virtual interaction; and oral rather than written exchanges. This is simply a cultural difference, and one that must be adjusted for by diplomats working between the sides.

That is, if one is even aware of that cultural difference.

Edward T. Hall is one of the great cultural anthropologists of the 20th century. He has produced seminal books on the critical role of culture in our lives. Some of his works include The Hidden Dimension, about cultural differences in the use of space; The Dance of Life, regarding how people in different places perceive and understand time; and Beyond Culture, a summation and integration of his views.

His greatest contribution is that of revealing the presence of an “unconscious culture” in all of us that often goes undetected, hardwired into the deepest recesses of minds and affecting such basic perceptions as the employment of space, the regulation and response to time, as well as to our ‘extensions’: our technological and figurative inventions, such as email in the above example.

Hall elucidated how many human differences are often accounted for by these unconscious cultural habits. These deep-seated assumptions permit us to interact with our own group, but, if we are unaware of them, they can become the source of considerable frictions and misunderstandings with other cultures. Furthermore, if we are unaware of our own most subtle cultural underpinnings, it is most probable that so are the outside cultures that deal with us.

Hall maintains that people in any given culture assume, often wrongly, that how people behave and see the world can easily be carried over to - or be understood in - another place. Sometimes a culture will not imagine in its wildest dreams that an interaction with another is missing some crucial component of understanding of how the two differ in the most seemingly minor, or detailed (but important) aspect. Individuals from different cultures, say an American and a Frenchman, may believe they are each carrying on a predictable transaction when, beneath the surface, cultural expectations may reflect two very different, even conflicting, worlds…

According to Hall, there are three ways of bringing this cultural hard-wiring to the fore of our consciousness, and to realize the underlying pattern: 1) when raising our young and we are forced to articulate and explain to them certain habits 2) by learning about and interacting with other cultures, thus being confronted by foreign habits that may force us to examine our own, and 3) when old systems start to fall apart and the formation of new cultures is demanded.

This awakening to one’s own culture is the beginning of a “cultural literacy” without which we cannot relate effectively to foreign cultures. The assumptions built into us about time, space, social interaction, and other habits are working on “automatic” until this awareness sets in.

In the example of work with Israelis and Palestinians, western diplomats need to become aware that, by instinctively giving priority to email interaction, for instance, they are unintentionally preferring one side. Once this awareness sets in, adjustments can be made to the differing work habits of each side.

In an increasingly interdependent and interactive world, the need for cultural understanding is unavoidable. As old political and social systems begin to falter the need to develop new cultures will become a necessity, and not a luxury. This ability to create “the new” will depend on our ability to recognize “the old” in us, and how our built-in “unconscious culture” is affecting us today.

It is only when we see clearly what is today unconscious and hidden in us that we can transcend its limits.

John Zada
Conditioning: Seeing our Innate Susceptibility

To properly see and move past the problem of conditioning, it is not enough to just acknowledge that people can, and do, get conditioned, brainwashed and indoctrinated. It’s also necessary to recognize the psychological factors that facilitate that process.

Our proclivity to being influenced and adopting viewpoints that are not our own, stems, in large part, from a series of behavioral imperatives and patterns that arise early in life. These include:

  • a need for social approval;
  • emotional dependency on others;
  • susceptibility to authority figures

These are all key ingredients in understanding how and why we learn to think and do things, which we might not otherwise.

As children, we're at our most vulnerable. In order to survive, and to ensure that we receive the needed love, affection and nurturing, we must rely on our parents - who also happen to be our only reference points in the world. But that love and protection can be seen to be conditional upon obedience to them. So, as children we work to maintain our parents’ approval, and thus learn to conform to their wishes. And that process includes imitating them. And here begins the process of childhood indoctrination - and learning obedience to authority.

So, how does this bear upon us as adults? And upon the political problems in the world?

The answer is that our dependency on authority figures, established in childhood, continues into adult life - except that the figures of authority are no longer just our parents, but other individuals in the wider world.

All societies are based on authority figures. And as we’ve seen from above, we become conditioned early on to showing obedience to them. So, in the same way that we work as children to gain the approval of our parents and families in order to ensure their continued benefaction, we also work to gain and maintain the approval of authority figures in our society who have other things to offer us in return. These people can be friends, teachers, bosses at our workplaces, and political or religious figures.

This is especially so in the Middle East, where authority figures are especially powerful and vested with special significance.

Because the Middle East has for so long been organized along family, tribal, and sectarian lines AND because the welfare of those entities have so often been under threat, supreme obedience to the dictates of the group has always been considered paramount. Obedience is considered crucial by the group to help ensure its cohesion and survival. Obedience is also of paramount importance for the individual member. Without maintaining the approval of the group, he or she can be cast out – or worse. Thus the mind of the individual member is more easily influenced. Beliefs become inculcated and reinforced.

This partly explains why conflicts in the Middle East are so enduring: the conditioning within groups runs deep, and is facilitated and reinforced by implicit and explicit threats. Dissenting, or alternative views on an “enemy” - which can put the wisdom of any conflict into question - are very rare indeed.

People in the Middle East who are used to being looked after all their lives by strong authority figures, and whose innate needs are unmet, can easily gravitate towards the most powerful authority figures of all: political and religious demagogues. Those personalities can provide them with the ultimate reassurance and protection – but at the price of accepting their extremist and fanatical agendas.

In the Middle East, allegiance to groups like Hizbullah or Israeli settler groups, or even loyalty to to local sects, may appear “natural” due to traditions of history; however, indoctrination permeates these groups with unforeseen consequences for politics. Conflicts are easily stoked and maintained where there is no dissent from within the group.

John Zada
Conditioning: The Deep Undercurrent

We've discussed how unmet human needs can block success in political negotiations, and how cult behaviour can fuel extremism.

We'd also like to point out another critical dimension that can block resolution and sustain conflicts: conditioned beliefs and behaviour.

In her book, The Manipulated Mind, therapist and author Denise Winn describes conditioning as “a learned association between two things which consequently affects one’s actions.”

Many of us have heard of the famous experiments conducted by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov in the early 1900s. While studying digestion patterns in dogs Pavlov discovered that certain reflexes could be inculcated, or conditioned, in animals.

Pavlov noticed that the dogs he was feeding would salivate in his presence before being given any food. He suspected that the dogs were associating him with the food, and decided to test this. By striking a tuning fork just before feeding the dogs, he later saw that he could induce salivation in the canines at will - just by striking the fork before mealtime. The dogs came to associate the tone of the tuning fork with nourishment. This procedure would later come to be known as “classic conditioning.”

Although knowledge of conditioning was held by earlier cultures in human history, Pavlov’s recent experiments opened the door to its formal study in the West. As a result of his work, and that of others, we’ve since learned that there is a whole range of conditioning patterns - learned associations - that impact human beings on a regular basis.

Not only is conditioning a necessary part of daily human life, but it is something that almost always goes unnoticed by our conscious minds - and is therefore difficult to acknowledge. Our actions, attitudes and most deeply held beliefs are often a result of these learned associations brought about by our environment, circumstances and sometimes the deliberate efforts of others.

Here is the sobering implication: how we see and interact with the world is something that is largely predetermined. In other words, we don’t freely choose to see the world the way we do.

When we look at the Middle East, we can see that decades of violence and warfare have created learned associations between parties in conflict. These rigid perceptions of "the other" simplify and generalize individuals and populations to the point distortion.

Many Palestinians have been conditioned to viewing ALL Israelis as occupiers, and of being militaristic, aggressive and duplicitous.

Many Israelis have come to see Palestinians and other Arabs as hostile, anti-Semitic and uncivilized. Because of the their history of persecution, Jews have been conditioned to have defensive reflexes that include, at times, a lack of trust, fear and paranoia of outside cultures.

What this conditioning does is to create a rock solid caricature of the other which is standardized, one dimensional, and which is applied across the board.

These caricatures are then passed along and reinforced by parents to children, and between peers. They find their way into the media and education systems and eventually become conventional wisdoms - fixed principles that remain deeply entrenched in the mind of the general populace.

The proclivity towards conditioning is, in part, the human brain’s way of learning and streamlining perception as a survival mechanism. But what gets lost in the process is the more complex and subtle realities of a situation: in the case of Middle East conflict, that Israelis and Palestinians are much MORE than how the other side is conditioned to see them.

Peacemaking therefore becomes extremely difficult, not only because the crude beliefs that belligerents hold of one another stand in the way of the brave decisions needed to transcend conflict, but also because the beliefs become cherished and inviolable. In other words they become vested interests - even property - that are to be maintained and protected at all costs.

Because people don’t realize that their beliefs are, in a sense, not their own, it leaves little possibility for them to exchange them for more nuanced views that are closer to reality.

Should it come as any surprise that peace negotiations between even the best intentioned leaders often fail when their conditioned societies (married as they are to their beliefs and behaviour) fail to support those negotiations - or as is more often the case, work against them?

John Zada
Joining the Cosmic Struggle

In a previous post entitled 'Human Needs and the Lure of Extremism,' we asserted that the appeal of militant groups (like ISIS) stems from their ability to provide for the unmet needs of prospective recruits.

The idea that human beings are innately guided towards meeting intangible emotional needs, is gaining greater currency among those doing social research on the behaviour of violent extremists.

In 2010, American anthropologist, Scott Atran, presented some findings from his research into violent extremist groups to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

In his presentation, entitled, “Pathways to and From Violent Extremism: The Case for Science-Based Field Research”, Atran stated the following:

“Entry into the jihadi brotherhood is from the bottom up: from alienated and marginalized youth seeking out companionship, esteem, and meaning, but also the thrill of action, sense of empowerment, and glory in fighting the world’s most powerful nation and army.”

“…What inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Koran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world that they will never live to enjoy.”

“…Many who are bored, underemployed, overqualified, and underwhelmed by hopes for the future turn on to jihad with their friends. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal opportunity employer (at least for boys, but girls are web-surfing into the act): fraternal, fast-breaking, thrilling, glorious, and cool. Anyone is welcome to try his hand at slicing off the head of Goliath with a paper cutter.”

We believe that Atran has succeeded in distilling the essence here.

For those living in countries whose governments are either partially or completely non-existent, or who cannot otherwise properly provide for their citizens, and where, consequently, basic needs are not met, one of the fast-tracks to meeting one’s needs is to join or create a militant group and enlist in the cosmic war.

The attraction to take part can be so powerful, if only because such groups promise to meet - in one fell swoop - all of the individual’s unmet needs, especially the basic need for meaning and a sense of mission in life.

Learning combat and other skills, carrying a gun, being given responsibility, experiencing a sense of personal importance, receiving money, taking part in international travel, meeting new people from other cultures, sharing friendships, and being a part of a historical cosmic struggle, all go a long way in making the recruit feel that his or her life has meaning, where previously they may have had little or none.

A sense of status, competency, control, and a feeling that one’s horizons and potential are being stretched make it very hard for some to ever look back. Indeed, if this is available in quantity from radical groups, and dressed in religious language, it may be hard to refuse, unless other serious alternatives are on offer.

Because all humans share the same innate needs, the deeper motives compelling the would-be extremist are not unlike those of say, a recruit attending police academy in the West, a student signing up for an exciting international career out of university, or a frustrated youth who is orphaned from his adoptive parents and who joins the fight against an Empire "in a galaxy far, far away."

The differences lie in the degree to which our needs are unmet and in the value and goals of those pursuits. 

Making available healthy and meaningful alternatives to joining a “cosmic struggle” is key to diminishing the ranks of extremists.

John Zada
The Emotional Brain

Part of the difficult task of trying to resolve conflicts is getting past the perceptual barriers that stand in the way of seeing conflicts for what they really are.

Longstanding traditions of diplomacy focus on state and interest-based negotiations, or an emphasis on concrete issues, like, for example, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, on resolving borders or settlements in the West Bank.

These approaches are understandable because they are based on familiar institutions and methods. However, they assume that since we don’t see other potential causes of conflict, that they must not be there.

As we've indicated, despite the best intentions of conflict resolution specialists, these efforts often fall short. This is because attending strictly to “issues” does not take into account the deeper human dynamics that give rise to those issues in the first place. 

Unacknowledged are the psychological and cultural aspects of conflict, which are fundamental and which, if properly understood, may hold the keys to improved conflict resolution.

The role of excessive emotion in Middle Eastern cultures, for example, is a factor that is virtually unrecognized or brought to bear in studies involving conflicts in the region. And yet emotion is one of the most salient factors, playing a crucial role in helping to instigate and maintain political conflict between human groups. 

Cycles of revenge, spite, exacting punishment and an inability to see beyond the needs of one’s own group - actions and reactions between antagonists in the Middle East today - are all driven by excessive emotional states.

Discoveries in the behavioral sciences allow us to see why the key to understanding and resolving conflicts lies in understanding our brains, and in our emotional brains in particular:

  • Our emotional brains date back to the earliest life forms on Earth and evolved to help ensure our survival
  • Extreme emotional arousal results in primitive thought patterns and triggers the "fight-or-flight response," creating a mindset that sees the world in either/or, black and white, and good or bad terms
  • Being in a highly aroused emotional state prevents us from seeing subtle distinctions and shades of grey that are the mark of intelligent or evolved thought, and that more accurately depict reality
  • Too much continual emotional arousal creates a state of ignorance in people and makes individuals susceptible to indoctrination and brainwashing

All violent conflicts, and acts of inhumanity and discrimination have as their hallmark high emotional arousal. It is therefore easy to understand how a region like the Middle East, with its emotionally-charged culture and complex politics, continues to be embroiled in so many ongoing difficulties.

However, this idea has not been embraced because it does not fit into our constructs of the world. We are not educated from an early age to know how our brains work and so we passively accept that all forms and degrees of emotion are simply an acceptable part of being human. The idea that excessive emotion may be largely to blame for many problems may also seem simplistic, and a leap from the hard interests that we usually equate with politics.

If we were taught from an early age about the consequences of excessive emotional arousal and the need to temper those emotions, we might stand a chance to greatly reduce the periodic tides of conflict that arise between peoples.

As it stands we only view excessive emotion as a problem if it seriously disrupts our interpersonal relationships. In these cases we may seek out counseling or attempt to learn things like “anger management.”

But what about on a collective level? 

Certainly, in cases of war and violent conflict, our group relations are more than disrupted. Is there also not a dire need for something akin to anger management among groups when it comes to certain international, interethnic, and inter-religious relations? 

John Zada
We Are Better Than Them

We usually reserve the word "cult" for groups that commit mass suicide by drinking poison-laced purple cool-aid.

There is a view however that cult phenomena are much more pervasive in our lives. In his book Them and Us: Cult Thinking and the Terrorist Threat, the late Dr. Arthur Deikman, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, alleges that cult thinking affects almost all of us. In the Middle East, where group belonging and identity remain supreme totems, the effect of hidden cult behaviour may be especially marked. Understanding its effects there may be key to moving the region to new and more constructive paradigms.

Deikman points out that cult behaviour has three main characteristics: 

  • Dependence on a leader;
  • Devaluing the outsider;
  • Avoiding dissent within the group

Compliance to and within groups is a natural human tendency, necessary for survival. But group activity can vary greatly, from consensus building and open critical discussion to more cult-like closed systems that reject not only outsiders but also any intruding realities – ultimately much to the expense of the group and its survival.

Taboos plus respect and fear for authority are strong features of many groups in the Middle East. From national identity, to religious systems to patriarchal families, respect for the leader, authority or "father figure" is unquestioned. The values of the society, especially religiously based ones, are taboos that do not sustain critical inquiry. Indeed, in this scenario, the ability to truly see an outsider equally, at "eye level," is simply not there.

In the Middle East, these matters are simply seen as "the way things have always been and will always be." However, this is a method of group survival with potentially terrible consequences in an age of globalization and weapons of mass destruction.

Whether in Israel's relations to its neighbours and its desperate desire to preserve its identity or in Hizbullah´s grip on its members, motivating them to higher purpose through sacrifice, even death - cult behaviour continues to grip the region, hidden in the veneer of tradition and references to longstanding cultures and civilizations. "You are our leader! We are your men!" chant the organization's young recruits. 

Indeed, most seductive of all, according to Deikman, is when belonging to a group comes with a divine calling. It makes the mission of sublime importance and eases the ability to maintain the cohesion of the group, calling on members to act blindly in its favour. By devaluing outsiders and feeling supreme, the group can provide members with a sense of mission and meaning.

The benefits of belonging to groups that act like cults are many: comfort, security, belonging, and, above all, a sense of higher purpose that the group and leader deliver, often at any cost. Indeed, it is when security and comfort meet higher purpose that the cult becomes an iron-clad contract between individual and group.

The cost of cults is massive. Deikman calls it "diminished realism." We see it every day in the Middle East: 

  • 91% of Israelis supported the bombing of Gaza in 2008 even though the results were profoundly uncertain, even counterproductive (e.g. a post-war strengthened Hamas), and other methods of approaching the conflict were not exhausted. 
  • Hamas is so sure of its "divine purpose" that there is little questioning of their goals or methods. All - rockets, bombs, violence – can be justified in the light of the group's distant goals even if, again, the results are not there: Gaza remains under siege and in a profoundly abnormal condition despite Hamas's strategy. 

Certainly, the record of progress in the Middle East is testament to a state of "diminished realism." It may not be at all impossible for Israelis and Palestinians to come to terms if certain taboos are sacrificed: that is, if cult behaviour is recognized and reduced. 

But it's tough to spot. It appears in a more subtle fashion in companies, organizations, and even between friends - almost always going unseen. Devaluing outsiders, avoiding dissent and blindly obeying leaders is often unrecognized for what it is. Also, breaking out of the group can be terrifying. Being thrust out, "excommunicated", a heretic in one's own "family" - however understood - can mean that the most basic instincts of life or death are triggered.

Yet, ironically, the word "heretic" is derived from the Greek "hairetikos," meaning "able to choose." Indeed, many in the Middle East deny the possibility of choice and point to the dance of fate in their desperate destiny, where in fact longstanding and unconscious acceptance of cult behaviour may be at play. After all, no one really wants to be labelled a heretic. 

Developing awareness of the problem is not easy, but it is possible. Recognition of one´s own cult tendencies may be the beginning. 

"The musk oxen gather in a circle to defend against the wolves yet there may be only other oxen outside the circle."

John Zada
Human Needs and the Lure of Extremism

For years, academics in the social sciences looked to socio-economics in their attempt to find an explanation for the powerful appeal of political and religious extremist groups in the Middle East. The idea soon emerged that disenchanted individuals – people with little education and/or few or no means to financially support themselves - were those most easily lured by militants, and made up the majority of their rank and file.

To many, this explanation seemed logical enough. The solution, according to its proponents, was for governments to address the root economic causes of the disenchantment - including unemployment, poverty, and lack of access to education - that led to people embracing extremist ideologies.

But then something happened to muddy the waters.

Other academics, and people working in the security services, started pointing to exceptions to this purely socio-economical approach. Many people, they claimed, who joined militant groups were in fact educated professionals from the middle or upper classes. Lack of education and economic opportunity - although a factor in many cases of extremist recruitment - did not fully account for the large numbers of others who were clearly not lacking in schooling, jobs or money. These others had been suddenly magnetized to “the cause” for some other reason or reasons. Something else had to be at play.

We now know that human beings have a set of clearly defined emotional needs that are as equally important to their well-being as their physical needs. Much of our behaviour in life is influenced by the compulsion to meet those needs - regardless of our stated motives for doing what we do. This is the key to understanding the powerful motive to join an extremist group.

Some of these needs, including the need for a sense of status within social groupings and the need for a sense of competence and achievement, reflects the view by some social scientists that socio-economic issues including unemployment, poverty and lack of education do in fact play a role in the appeal of extremist groups. The inability to fulfill these needs on their own compel people to connect with others who can offer them the means to realize those needs, but in another way.

For instance, a person who can’t derive a sense of competence and status through his or her work, simply because they are unable to find work, will be easily lured by a group or organization that can offer to meet those needs.

But it doesn’t end there.

One could have an education, status, and money but still be vulnerable to the appeal of militancy – as demonstrated by privileged individuals who are a part of these organizations. Why would this be the case?

The appeal to join an extremist movement may also derive from a lack of other unmet needs including the need for security, attention, a feeling of control, friendships, community, and meaning and purpose because any such grouping will almost inevitably provide just those things for the would-be member. Being handed a gun and given a mandate to combat “evildoers” can provide a very powerful sense of social cohesion, control over one’s destiny, and meaning to those who previously lacked those things, regardless of how well-off they may have previously been.

If people have their needs met through the healthy outlets of daily life, in a healthy society, by way of a good job, a sufficient income, a safe environment, a social network of family and friends, and a sense of meaning, they would not need to look elsewhere for them. People will think twice about joining with others whose outward goals don’t gel with their own. This has always been the fundamental, subconscious, appeal of cults, who in addition to offering to meet certain needs also appeal to a person’s sense of dependency on others, especially authority figures.

Educating people about their needs and the necessity to meet them in a healthy fashion, combined with efforts on the part of governments to foster policies that meet people's needs, would go a long way in reducing the appeal of extremist groups. It would also have the effect of reducing conflicts and ameliorating core issues that provide the raison d’etre for these groups in the first place.

John Zada
The Middle East: The Problem

For years, efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine problem, as well as other issues in the Middle East, have floundered outright or only managed to scratch the surface of issues whose roots lie much deeper than where most peacemaking work has taken place. Despite the failures, these political initiatives continue unabated while the problems of the Middle East become further entrenched.

As a result we have a situation today in which a team of well-intentioned doctors are attending to a patient, whose malady has been misdiagnosed, in the hope that a successive application of misplaced treatments will result in a sudden, random, and miraculous cure. 

We believe that new clarity is desperately required regarding the problems of the Middle East and their resolution. In our view, the problems of the region cannot be effectively addressed on faulty premises or political terms, or in talks or agreements that do not attend to the root problem. 

We believe the correct basis and working assumptions must be established before efforts move forward. Therefore we would like to suggest reframing the problems of - and the solutions to - the Middle East in wider, simpler and more fundamental human terms that draw upon new understandings in the fields of psychology and human behaviour. 

We therefore postulate the following: 

* Human beings come into high states of anxiety and emotion if their needs - physical and emotional - are not met. These needs can be defined and articulated and they must not be confused with wishes. 

* This heightened state of anxiety and emotion is not conducive to finding ways to meet those needs, leading to a downward cycle of worsening of conditions, and in the end, violent conflict 

* We believe that the Middle East is exactly in this state, failing to find successful mechanisms to meet the needs of its citizens, societies and its groups. 

* Part of the reason that Middle Easterners are not properly attending to the needs of their own, is because theirs is a region that emphasizes and employs the use of ancient means of meeting needs - approaches that no longer work in today's complex world. 

* These ancient means can be described as old systems of survival used by small groups (whether tribe, religion, or nation - or a mix of the three) derived from millenia of threat and competition. 

* Historically, the pressing need to survive in a region filled with competing groups and frequent invaders, often combined with a lack of overarching authority to provide security, have led to the creation of these group survival systems - based partly on strength, intimidation, deterrence, and war-making - and which have persisted until today. A high degree of exclusivity within groupings adds further fuel to these divisions in a region where groups live together, or in exceptionally close proximity. 

* This continued reliance upon survival through a system of exclusive and ancient grouping that once helped to meet the needs of another time is now obsolete in a world where human beings live as part of one global community, where our survival as a race depends on collective cooperation against collective threats, and in a region that, despite the wishes of many, is fundamentally interconnected.

* Put in another way: continued emphasis upon ancient group survival in the Middle East only leads to worse emotional states and poorer responses to a conflict which now, ironically, threatens the survival of the people employing these techniques in order to survive. 

* In addition to spending much of their time and resources towards ensuring group survival and neglecting the basic needs of its citizens, leaders in the region often take advantage of these conditions in order to keep themselves in positions of power, prohibiting the development of new mechanisms and deepening the already profound crisis facing the region. 

* This failure to properly meet needs, and the ability to move towards approaches that do, is the source of regular violent conflict in the Middle East, whether between Israelis and Palestinians, or between groups in states such as Lebanon, or Iraq, or even between Palestinians, for example. 

* Indeed, today in the Middle East, there is an often intentional approach of denying or belittling the other group and its needs as a means of strengthening one's own. This, above all, needs to change if negotiations or political processes are ever to achieve lasting solutions. 


We believe that new mechanisms can be achieved in the Middle East for the needs of all groups to be met, and for survival and prosperity to be assured. To be sure, these must be developed by the people in the region on the basis that the needs of all sides must be met and that new arrangements - political, economic, and cultural - can and must be found to do so. As a basis for moving forward, various groups in the Middle East must also recognize each other's legitimate needs. 

John Zada