Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Weakest Links

Anyone in the behavioral sciences will tell you that intermittent reinforcement is by far the strongest type of reinforcement for behavior.  If there is even the slightest chance that the behavior will result in what the person wants, then it will be continued.  A good example of this is Bart's behavior towards Homer in the TV series, The Simpsons.  In one such interchange, both Bart and Lisa ask their father if they can go somewhere. Homer replies, "No." They repeat, "Can we go, Dad?" to which he again replies, "No." This cycle goes on for maybe 20 times, until Homer finally replies, "Yes."  Bart and Lisa have experience with Dad (the weakest link in the family) and know if they persist, he will give in eventually. So they never take no for an answer.

The Terrorists know that if they persist, eventually someone will give in.  With consistent, albeit convoluted logic, they pick the "weakest link" countries to try to intimidate.  They have been intermittantly reinforced for their kidnapping and beheading of hostages, and for their murderous impulses in general (e.g., Spain and now the Philipines).  So we can expect them to keep at it.  Even though the U.S. has consistently refused to submit to the Terrorist demands, as long as any country is submissive and caves in, they put everyone at risk. 

"A militant group, meanwhile, said it had taken two Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian hostage and would behead them if their countries did not announce their intention to withdraw their troops from Iraq immediately.
However, none of those countries were part of the 160,000 member coalition force in Iraq.  In a statement given to The Associated Press, the group, calling itself ''The Holders of the Black Banners,'' said they had taken the six truckers hostage and would behead one of them every 72 hours if their nations did not pull out of Iraq and the company they work for did not close its branch here. The deadline starts from 8 p.m. (noon EDT) Wednesday, it said."

This is what happens when one gives into blackmail.  Even countries not involved in Iraq can become targets of these madmen.  The only way to deal with these sociopaths is not to reinforce this type of behavior.  I have a modest suggestion.  Usually the options in such cases are relatively clear-cut. Either you give into the Terrorist demands or someone is murdered.  A point that Belmont Club made a few days ago is that, even if you give in, you have allowed the Terrorists to have the ultimate power because you have no way of knowing if they will release their hostage unharmed (after all, can one really trust their word?).   Here is my suggestion.  Lie, cheat, mislead, and say whatever needs to be said to get the hostage released. Go through the motions of responding to their demands (surely there is nothing wrong with deceit under these circumstances.--in fact, deceiving the Terrorists would be a moral perogative). Pretend to take your troops out of the country.  Give them counterfeit money. Whatever.  Then when (hopefully) the hostage is released and you know your ploy has worked, spit in their faces and go "Nyah, Nyah, Nyah."  Treating their demands honorably is the last thing anyone should do.  If I were the Philipino president, I would rejoice at the release of my countryman, then immediately double the presence in the country.   I would increase the number of activities my country was involved in, and I would make it clear that any future attacks on the citizens of my country will result in a further  increase in my country's presence and involvement.  I would stop payment on the check for $6 million or make sure that any money I had given them could be traced or (like in Mission Impossible episodes) would self-destruct. This is referred to as Negative Reinforcement.  It tends to extinguish a particular behavior, rather than reinforce it.

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