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The Morning After Paris: From Vancouver Island 14/11/15

Nov 14

G’day all! Somewhat more difficult to say this morning after what went on in Paris last night. First order of business is to “uncover” for your fallen comrades in France. You have some regular readers from several law enforcement agencies in that country.

Next order of business is to remain calm, gather yourself and not react in a “knee jerk” fashion as President Hollande has done with his early statement declaring, “this is an act of war”. If I were one of the disenfranchised attackers involved, I would immediately declare a successful operation.

To respond to attacks of this sort we do not want “mindless cowboys” on the team. They will do us more harm than good. This won’t be the first time that these types of threats will have been made by the authorities. And I ask you……..have they met with success yet? I play judo, and this sport is called “the gentle way”. I assure you that I can make you an offer that will be difficult for you to refuse, and when we are done you will feel good about us both.

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies throughout the world (in which I work now, thanks to your deluded employer) are showing an increased interest in “terrorist behaviour” and the management of “terrorists”. They are aware of the increase in violent demonstrations and the level of violence shown by some participants. Law enforcement (including intelligence agencies) and “terrorists” walk a fine line in the arena of dissent; for while the freedom to dissent is a democratic right, it does not provide the dissenter with the right to kill. When demonstrations of dissent escalate into “blood baths” the police are mandated to restore order, protect dignitaries, and ensure public safety. These varying mandates can degenerate quickly into violent tragedies. In an effort to understand the dynamics of such behaviour and prevent such tragic outcomes, I would like to share with you a different approach. Thanks to your employer, who will have nothing to do with me, these ideas are now provided for foreign law enforcement agencies who realize that as long as you keep your hand in the fire you will continue to be burned.

This article (that may end up being several articles…..let’s see how it goes?) will attempt to address the psychology of the minority of active participants (ISIS, al Qaeda) who seem determined, no matter what threats are made against them, no matter how many of them lose their lives, to perpetrate violence.


With regard to those in the organization who have decided to go beyond passive resistance, we might ask what psychological mechanisms set them apart from those who have rejected more violent means? The understanding of this question was provided for us by one of the most brilliant Social Psychologists who churned out a compelling body of research that has stood the test of time and context; Albert Bandura. Dr. Bandura noted that it is our ability to sanction or censure our behaviour that is critical in our ability to act violently toward others. As we develop (in ALL societies) we form a set of guidelines and deterrents for our behaviour. Once we gain control we begin to either sanction or censure the things we do. We try to behave in ways that are consistent with our moral standards as this brings self valuation and satisfaction. On the other hand, we try to avoid behaving in those ways that are inconsistent with our moral standards as this would bring self condemnation and dissatisfaction. In this way our ability to sanction or censure keeps our behaviour in line with our moral standards. Are you following this? (I’ve just decided that we’ll stop after “moral standards”, and save the rest for another chapter).

But first, problems arise as our moral standards do not operate on “auto-pilot”. To be effective, we must manually engage them. Unfortunately we have a variety of mechanisms that can be employed to selectively activate or disengage our moral standards from our behaviour. This dynamic explains how people with the same moral standards can behave in contrasting ways. In future submissions we will look at a few of these mechanisms and see if we can explain this seemingly “crazy” behaviour (which it is not……in terms of clinical insanity) and how these folks choose the course they take.


Dr. Mike Webster
Reg’d Psych.


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