Dehumanization: A Key to Understanding Terrorism

smaller khanRolling Stone published an important, well researched and well written article this week titled The Children of ISIS, by Janet Reitman. It takes the reader inside the home and minds of the three teenagers from Chicago who were apprehended at the airport on their way to join ISIS last year. (Link below)

As I read about the young siblings I found myself empathizing with the psychological setting they were in. I understood what caused them to want, so desperately, to leave their parents, who they loved deeply, and to risk their lives for what they believed was the necessary path to serving God.

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The Adolescent Brain

susan-jayne blakemore-adolescent -brain300x178Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is a cognitive neuroscientist who studies the adolescent brain.

In a recent talk she gave at HeadCon 14 she said the following.

If adolescence is a sensitive period for brain development, that is a double-sided coin because although it represents a period of opportunity in which the brain is particularly susceptible to acquiring new information in certain domains, it also might represent a period of vulnerability, in which the brain is particularly vulnerable to certain environmental inputs.”

There is not a great deal of research that has been done in the field of neuroscience on the adolescent brain, however that is changing. Like many areas of neuroscience, technology is allowing a greater opportunity to understand the way in which the human brain processes the input it receives. While it is, of course, different for every person, in some ways, we can understand a great deal from looking at what is similar. I am inspired by the work Professor Blakemore is doing. She is asking important questions about a critical time of life. Read more

The Importance of Story


I was hanging out on the edge today. By this I mean I was listening to conversations (watching videos) on my favorite website, I was drawn to a video of Jonathan Gottschall talking about story. I have always loved stories, and am often deeply affected by them, so I listened with great interest to what Jonathan had to say.

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Seth Godin Defines Memes

Seth-Godin-Discusses-MemesThis talk was given in 2003. It’s called “How to get your ideas to spread”. It’s been seen over 3 million times. It’s what marketing is about. It’s what I lose sleep over. Seth doesn’t mention the word meme. He does talk about obsession, and I am a bit obsessed with memes. I obsess about how a meme can be built that will be successful enough to make a difference in the world? I wonder what the building blocks are for peace memes.

Seth talks about the importance of something being remarkable, worth making a remark about. This was before Facebook and Twitter. He was not talking about retweets or likes. The concept was the same then as it is now, with or without social media. We, as human beings, have to choose where to focus our attention. A successful meme will spread if, and only if, it is worth remarking about. It has to be worth focusing our attention on.

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Robin Williams

13-robin-williams-heart-surgery-226x300In 2009 I had the opportunity to meet Robin Williams.  I was attending the TED conference.  It was the evening before I would be speaking and I was nervous and excited. There was an evening event, a social with food and drinks.  It was opening night for TED 2009.  I had already met and talk with a number of amazing people and was about to go back to my hotel room when I found myself next to Robin.  He was sitting on a ledge.  I decided to sit next to him.  He said “Hello, how are you?”  So I told him.  I was nervous about speaking the next morning.  Then I said “And what do you do?”  He paused for a moment before I said “just kidding.”

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Gaza – Extreme, Violent Hatred of the “Other”


Talya Shilok Edry, who has more than one thousand Facebook followers, posted the following “status”: “What an orgasm to see the Israeli Defense Forces bomb buildings in Gaza with children and families at the same time. Boom boom.”  Another quote “Sweet settlers, next time you kidnap an Arab boy, call me and let me torture him!! Why do you get to have all the fun?”  These quotes have circulated widely on social media.

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TED Weekends

11-Ted-picI’ve been a huge fan of TED for many years, even before I spoke on the TED stage. I first discovered TED in 2001 after searching for “signs of intelligent life in the universe,” to quote Lili Tomlin. I became an immediate fan and set a life goal to attend TED. That goal became a reality in 2009 when I not only had the honor of attending the conference but also gave a talk.

Since then, I’ve watched TED grow to a multifaceted organization that is making the most of their “Ideas Worth Sharing” mission. They’ve recently collaborated with Huffington Post on a project called TED Weekend, which gives TED fans an opportunity to expand upon some of the most popular TED talks.  It offers a place for those talks to be elaborated upon by the person giving the talk as well as by guest bloggers.

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What is So Scary About the Word Atheist?

10-220px-ScarletLetter.svg_-220x210There is plenty to fear  when it comes to the word atheist.  It’s just not what most people think.  After all, it’s just a word.  It simply describes someone who denies the existence of a supreme being or deity.  Atheists don’t tend to be scary people.  Actual fear of physical harm from atheists isn’t what the strong reaction against atheism is about.

Fear has to do with an emotion aroused by impending danger.  The problem is, fear shows weakness.  Anger is often a safer emotion to express than fear.   Anger feels stronger, less vulnerable.  Anger is what is often expressed toward atheists.

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I am NOT a Deprogrammer – Sorry…

9-Fullscreen-capture-6142012-51202-PM-320x242I was deprogrammed from a religious cult.  This word, deprogramming,  implies my mind had been programmed, much like a computer, and that a process could be done to reverse that programming.  I see this as an analogy. Of course it is not as simple as working with computer code.  The complexity of the human mind cannot be reduced to that of computer bits…yet, but the parallel can be drawn.

Robert Lifton’ work on totalism describes criteria for thought reform. When that criterion was presented to me during my “deprogramming” it was a devastating moment.

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