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« New Zealand Highlights | Main | Public Awareness of Nanotech »

September 19, 2006


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Phillip Huggan

"Societies willing to do periodic and invasive (though not necessarily inconvenient) scans of people's psychiatric health will probably be able to protect themselves from suicide bombers and amok individuals"

Wouldn't that be too wide a net to cast? I'm guessing something like 1/5 people presently suffer from a mental health problem (I think I might have a mild anxiety disorder, maybe it is just a mildly pissed off vindictive temperament) and it is probably close to 1/2 that do at some point in their lives. It is painfully obvious that some US Government PNAC officials have mental health problems (W is healthy). Something simple and cheaper like improved vehicle emission standards do way more from a public safety standpoint than does stopping a Mall/stadium/school suicide attacker every few months and a nuclear terrorist every two decades.

Would "treating" all mental health problems be a net productivity gain or a loss?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I wasn't suggesting that society would have to treat everyone--only those who were a clear and present danger to others.

I was suggesting that those few would be identifiable by neurochemical indicators.


Michael Deering

The Columbine example makes identifying amoks almost impossible. These kids had no ties to other terrorists and certainly suffered no physical hardships. My personal opinion, which carries no weight, is that they just played DOOM too much.
The only way to ensure total safety from amoks is through ubiquitous surveillance and intelligent machine analysis, with no humans in the loop until after a definite threat has been identified. Fortunately, these technologies should be available just as the danger level from knowledge enabled weapons becomes critical.


I believe the fact that they grew up in an environment of ridicule and belittling from other students, as well as perceptions of being inferior to "jocks" played a bigger part in the Columbine incident than DOOM.


This is an important topic, thanks.

But you may be overlooking the absolutely vital suicide-bomber infrastructure that exists in societies like Gaza/West Bank, and Hizbollah controlled Lebanon etc. The training for shahid (becoming a martyr gen. by violent means) begins at a very early age in schools. Good prospects are identified by teachers and routed to clerics who specialize in this type of thing, and who have connections to the people with the "goods"----the explosives, detonators, and training in infiltration and target identification.

It's a lot bigger than a personality disorder or affective disorder. It encompasses entire societies. You need to reflect the big picture here to do justice.


michael vassar

I wouldn't take seriously the analyses of people who claim that our poor have it better than old-time aristocrats. They have longer life expectancies, better TV shows, etc, but in absolute terms the old aristocrats had LOTS of things that our poor don't have, especially, little need to think ahead farther than a year in order to maintain their status.

On an optimistic note, think of how few people the Columbine kids, or Aum Shinra for that matter, killed. Crazy people don't think clearly, and very strongly tend to do far less than the maximum possible amount of dammage.

On a somber note, the romantic issue makes me think of Sasha Chislenko. How many of us would go through a physical scan of correlates of mental ill health without raising warning signs? I have no idea.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Michael D, I agree that it's hard to track all potential amoks by looking at the company they keep. I was suggesting something more like the health-diagnostic toilets: monitor everyone's biochemistry frequently.

Rugless, I know about the martyrdom-training infrastructure. And I have read that some astonishingly high percentage of Palestinians supports suicide bombing. That's horrific.

But the fact remains that there haven't been that many suicide bombers, when compared to the total population. The rate of schizophrenia is about 0.5-1%. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that everyone who actually becomes a suicide bomber is diagnosably mentally ill even by today's standards--at least by the time they do the deed.

I do not know whether it's possible to take a healthy person and talk them into a suicide mindset. But I strongly suspect that even if that is possible, it takes a long time, and leaves biochemical traces.

Michael V: Do you really think the poor--or the middle class, for that matter--make a habit of thinking ahead? It's just not human nature. Look how many people got adjustable-rate mortgages.

As to the number of people killed: Granted it's less than it could be. There seems to be a suicidal need to be personally involved in the violence. I don't know how this will interact with new technology. If they could choose an explosive vest that would kill 10 or a poison that would kill 100 and leave them alive, they might choose the vest. But if they could choose a vest that would kill 10 or a vest that would kill 1000, is there any reason why they'd pick the smaller number?

(I don't think Aum Shinrikyo should be counted in this group, any more than the Rajneesh cult's bio-attack.)


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