So, I like most Dilbert cartoons. I don’t much care for the guy who creates them. See, Dilbert is often funny (in a painful sort of way) because the situations it relates about working in the corporate world are so recognizably on the money. On the occasions that I read Dilbert and don’t find it funny it’s for the same reason I think the above-linked blog is full of shit – when Scott Adams decides to mock someone or something because he feels superior to them or it.
In the blog above Adams talks about his theory that it shouldn’t be all that difficult to come up with a system for sniffing out sociopaths and terrorists by monitoring their online behavior and comparing that behavior to the online behavior of “normal people.” He offers the example of a former colleague who designed software to sift through financial transactions to look for fraud. That software worked because of two things, once of which Adams mentions – that lots of people who commit bank fraud are not really smart enough to realize there is such a thing as typical financial behavior engaged in by people who aren’t committing fraud – and one that he doesn’t – that most banks are run by people who aren’t smart enough to realize there is such a thing as typical or normal financial behavior.
See, the guy who got rich writing this software was smarter than the average banker. That bankers are not particularly clever should be obvious to anyone who paid attention to the mess the financial sector made out of the global economy a few years back.
The problem with Adams’ theory as applied to terrorism is, to my mind, twofold. One the one hand he assumes that all terrorists are sociopaths. The problem with this assumption is that being a terrorist really isn’t the same thing as being an arborist. The label of terrorist and terrorism is a political term applied by the people at the receiving end of an act of terror. That is not to say that blowing up buildings or airplanes or school busses or mailing ricin to people isn’t a violent and socially unacceptable thing to do. Any society has a right, as well as an obligation, to define some behaviors as unacceptable and or criminal. That does not, however, make said society automatically in the right.
Bear with me here. From 1899 to 1902 the United States fought a war against a guerrilla army in the Philippines. From the US perspective, those Filippino fighters were terrorists, but hardly anyone who has studied the history of that war would argue that the US was in the right. Today there are many groups fighting the Syrian army for control of that country. To the Syrians they are terrorists, but apart from Hezbollah, Iran and the Russians who are fond of the Syrian government, most of the world agrees that the Syrian regime is in the wrong.
Who is and is not labeled a terrorist depends on their political perspective. So, it stands to reason that not all folks who’ve been labeled as terrorists are sociopaths. Scott Adams doesn’t seem to see this perspective at all. If you read his books and other blog posts you’ll see why – because it has rarely occurred to him that his view of the world might be wrong or that there are things worth protecting and valuing in the world apart from his lilly white position of wealth and privilege.
Again, I laugh at Dilbert often, so I don’t begrudge him his wealth. That he thinks being good at drawing funny pictures qualifies him to pontificate on anything else though is unfortunate.
Bruce Schneier has another take on what seems to be Adams’ support for government snooping programs here.