Terrorism thrives on media coverage and without that coverage much of it would wither away. Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unibomber, said it straight away about his Manifesto. He was sending terrorist bombs to specific people with the intent of creating a media frenzy for the very purpose of getting people to pay attention to his ideas. He had convinced himself that his thoughts were so profound that no one would listen to him unless he killed people to prove how profound those thoughts were. It is rather similar to the motivations of Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed President Kennedy in a desperate cry for personal recognition and fame. Such people know they have something to say but feel they have been denied a public forum. A considerable part of the world’s problems at present is because many people feel disenfranchised because they have no way to express themselves publicly.
I was in Berkeley during the 60s when the various antiwar riots were taking place, and one thing I heard several times was that the media wouldn’t listen to their demands if there wasn’t a story of destruction involved. Who knows, I might have talked with Kaczynski himself, because I parked directly in front of his home for many years. One time I was standing on Telegraph Avenue beside the Bank of America and a guy right beside me started pouring kerosene into the building through a broken window. It was the day after the infamous Santa Barbara Bank of America fire bombing, so this was a very serious event I was witnessing. I was asking this guy, Why are you doing this stupid thing, it will just cause a fire? By now he was tossing a lighted match into the puddle of inflammable fluid on the floor inside the window. He had tossed maybe five lit matches in, but they didn’t catch fire. I said, This is really stupid! He said, Ya, but it’s the only way to get them to pay attention. As he tossed yet another lit match into the window the police came charging down the street and everyone fled. The next day the bank put decorative bricks into the windows, which remain there to this day.
Part of this modern personal disenfranchisement is caused by the focusing effect of the media. Because of the high quality of distribution of modern media, it is possible to have nearly every person on Earth view some celebrity do some specific thing. That’s great and we all like to see the very best in entertainment. But the down side of this high quality mass entertainment is that nearly everyone, other than the celebrities, doesn’t get to have an opportunity to give a personal take on things. This is caused by everyone wanting to see only the very best because they, as individuals, have only a limited amount of time and they want to use it as best they can.
The down side of media concentration of quality is that nearly all people are left out and some become so desperate even for a kind of mindless popularized song and dance media that they line up by the thousands for an audition. Ultimately only one in thousands even gets any TV time, and precious few get anything in the way of monetary reward. Because people seek the best there arise many strange genres of being popular, such as Top Ten lists, and Search for new Stars shows. I like the top TV shows too because, quite frankly, the sets are populated, seen and mostly unseen behind the camera, with the most talented people in their specific field. But their very ability shuts out everyone else and so very few people even get the opportunity to develop what talents they have. And it takes a great number of very talented people to make the team to bring us these shows and without the complete team there is no-show. The problem is, in part, that the degree of dedication needed to rise to the top of any of these specific fields means that each of the individuals have poor to very poor general comprehension of the long-term effects of their specialized activities. They must be absolutely dedicated to even hope to achieve sufficient celebrity to be given a chance to perform. These great artists have absolutely no time or mental space for any other real consideration and they are slaves to their ambition. Ambition totally overrides any thought of considered morality. Success is absolutely necessary, for without total success you have no success at all. And without success you are never seen by the public. The corrosive effect on society is rather like scientists making weapons but not concerning themselves much about the eventual uses of their productions; they simply don’t have time for these distractions.
The chain of responsibility these days between the creation of public things and the justification of problems these creations bring upon us is very tenuous. The many people involved in developing the details leading to the end results created by those creations feel no responsibility. No one feels morally responsible for the outcomes because they were only doing their job on some technical activity which itself is perfectly peaceful. They can sleep perfectly well every night of their life knowing they were being good citizens. Perhaps they were being good company employees, and good citizens of their country, but they might have been terrible citizens for the overall health of the world. But they never need trouble themselves with these thoughts because within their world they were paragons of virtue. Which they are.
Until the concentrated mass media can find a way to make normally productive people more interesting and make foolish behavior less interesting, humanity will struggle with desperate people seeking attention. Thus terrorists and people with a video camera will continue to do outrageous things to get the media and thus the public to pay attention to them.