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Comment author: Salemicus 13 January 2015 10:50:33AM 0 points [-]

It is not surprisingly Americo-centric for a post titled "How Islamic terrorists reduced terrorism in the US"... The fall I pointed out for the US after 2000 also happens in a graph for Western Europe, which I would expect, but not for the world as a whole.

If you see the same phenomenon all over the developed world, then it is very likely to have roughly the same causes throughout that class of countries. It is parochial in the extreme to explain that phenomenon in one country solely in terms of causes specific to that country, rather than to causes that could have affected all the countries in the relevant class. Otherwise you are essentially arguing for some staggering co-incidence.

For example, if we are asking why did crime fall in New York in the 1990s, and all your explanations are specific to New York, you are missing key factors. Crime fell across America, and across the developed world. Explanations specific to New York can only explain the difference between New York and the rest of America, and explanations specific to America can only explain the difference between the US and the rest of the developed world, and so on.

So yes, you are being Americo-centric.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 13 January 2015 06:13:23PM *  0 points [-]

I think you should have checked the database, which you obviously didn't, before writing two long replies.

You see the decline after 2000 in the US and in Europe, which are the regions affected by Muslim terrorism (outside of Muslim countries, where this dynamic would not apply). You don't see it in Japan, Russia, India, China, or in Muslim countries. You don't see it in the world overall. This is entirely consistent with my hypothesis; your hypothesis that it is coincidence is the one that requires coincidence.

And, yes, when I write a post that says it's about America, it's going to be Americo-centric. I live in America. It's okay for me to talk about America.

Comment author: Salemicus 12 January 2015 05:00:51PM 5 points [-]

Your analysis is surprisingly Americo-centric. The 1970s saw very serious terrorism (far worse than America) in the UK, Germany and Italy, all of which are now very peaceful countries. Did 9/11 also make terrorism un-Italian?

Secondly, your timing is all wrong. The fall in terrorism worldwide long predates the rise of specifically Islamic terrorism.

Thirdly, Islamic terrorism is the intellectual and organisational descendant of secular Arab terrorism and is received in much the same way. The only innovation is the suicide bomber. Yet in the period that you claim terrorism was 'cool,' there was no shortage of horrific atrocities committed by) Arab terrorists - often in co-ordination with Western groups, such as the RAF. Do you think those were seen as 'cool'? Abu Nidal was the bin Laden of his day, and got much the same popular portrayal. In fact, the keffiyeh-clad Arab terrorist as staple villain in action movies hasn't changed one jot in forty years, just that then he would be a member of PFLP or Fatah, and now al Qaeda.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 13 January 2015 04:27:21AM *  2 points [-]

It is not surprisingly Americo-centric for a post titled "How Islamic terrorists reduced terrorism in the US". I acknowledged that there was a bigger (numeric) fall in terrorism in the US in the 70s. The fall in the US after 2000, though, is probably as big or bigger when expressed as a percent drop rather than as an absolute drop. Equal efforts at reducing a variable results in drops that are similar by percentage more than by absolute number. (That means the effort to go from 100 cases per year to 10 is more similar to the effort to go from 10 to 1 than to the effort needed to go from 900 to 800.)

There has been no fall in terrorism worldwide; just the opposite. It was at its lowest point in 1971-1975, and is over 10 times as high now (as measured by GTD incidents). For Europe at a whole, it was at its lowest in 1970, then was high from 1976 to 1997. For "(USSR & the Newly Independent States (NIS))", there was no terrorism until 1989 (imagine that!), then a steady rise until 2010. The fall I pointed out for the US after 2000 also happens in a graph for Western Europe, which I would expect, but not for the world as a whole.

There is a sudden dramatic fall in Central America bottoming out in 1998, to just a few incidents per year. This might be due to a similar thing happening with the drug wars there, or might just be bad data.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 January 2015 04:19:14PM *  2 points [-]

I checked 200 cases from other countries and did not find one case tagged "Individual".


Comment author: PhilGoetz 11 January 2015 04:53:35PM 3 points [-]

He was not in the 200 cases I checked, which is not surprising, since there were 48,108 cases. Breivik is an anecdote. A sample of 200 is data.

Comment author: Mark_Friedenbach 11 January 2015 05:59:35AM 0 points [-]

Latest Firefox, and they're still unreadably blury...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 11 January 2015 06:18:09AM 1 point [-]

Doing a side-by-side comparison, they are a tiny bit blurrier in Firefox, which is bizarre, since they're JPEGs. But they're still large and clear on my screen. I can't make them any bigger; that's the size the GTD website produces them in.

Comment author: Mark_Friedenbach 11 January 2015 05:21:28AM *  5 points [-]

You're graphs are too low resolution to read.

As for individual actors in other nations, what about Anders Behring Breivik? You might find this list helpful:


Comment author: PhilGoetz 11 January 2015 05:36:25AM *  6 points [-]

The graphs look large and clear to me. They're about 570 pixels wide. Are you using a cell phone? I'm using Chrome.

Now that I think about it, even if other countries had a similar base rate of lone-wolf terrorists, I might not see any in 200 samples, because many of them have much higher rates of terrorism than ours (in some cases, a hundred times higher). Also, those with high rates probably can't do the detective work to attribute attacks to "Individual" rather than "Unknown".

How Islamic terrorists reduced terrorism in the US

13 PhilGoetz 11 January 2015 05:19AM

Yesterday I was using the Global Terrorism Database to check some suprisingly low figures on what percentage of terrorist acts are committed by Muslims. (Short answer: Worldwide since 2000, about 80%, rather than 0.4 - 6% as given in various sources.) But I found some odd patterns in the data for the United States. Look at this chart of terrorist acts in the US which meet GTD criteria I-III and are listed as "unambiguous":

There were over 200 bombings in the US in 1970 alone, by all sorts of political groups (the Puerto Rican Liberation Front, the Jewish Defense League, the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, anti-Castro groups, white supremacists, etc., etc.) There was essentially no religious terrorism; that came in the 80s and 90s. But let's zoom in on 1978 onward, after the crazy period we inaccurately call "the sixties". First, a count of Islamic terrorist acts worldwide:

Islamic terrorist acts worldwide
This is incomplete, because the database contains over 400 Islamic terrorist groups, but only let me select 300 groups at a time. (Al Qaeda is one of the groups not included here.) Also, this doesn't list any acts committed without direct supervision from a recognized terrorist group, nor acts whose perpetrators were not identified (about 77% of the database, estimated from a sample of 100, with the vast majority of those unknowns in Muslim countries). But we can see there's an increase after 2000.

Now let's look at terrorist acts of all kinds in the US:

Terrorist acts in the US, 1970-2013

We see a dramatic drop in terrorist acts in the US after 2000. Sampling them, I found that except for less than a handful of white supremacists, there are only 3 types of terrorists still active in the US: Nutcases, animal liberation activists, and Muslims. If we exclude cases of property damage (which has never terrified me), it's basically just nutcases and Muslims.

Going by body count, it may still be an increase, because even if you exclude 9/11, just a handful of Muslim attacks still accounted for 50% of US fatalities in terrorist attacks from 2000 through 2013. But counting incidents, by 2005 there were about 1/3 as many per year as just before 2000. From 2000 to 2013 there were only 6 violent terrorist attacks in the US by non-Islamic terrorist groups that were not directed solely at property damage, resulting in 2 fatalities over those 14 years. Violent non-Islamic organized terrorism in the US has been effectively eliminated.

Some of this reduction is because we've massively expanded our counter-terrorism agencies. But if that were the explanation, given that homeland security doesn't stop all of the Islamic attacks they're focused on, surely we would see more than 6 attacks by other groups in 14 years.

Much of the reduction might be for non-obvious reasons, like whatever happened around 1980. But I think the most-obvious hypothesis is that Islamic terrorists gave terrorism a bad name. In the sixties, terrorism was almost cool. You could conceivably get laid by blowing up an Army recruiting center. Now, though, there's such a stigma associated with terrorism that even the Ku Klux Klan doesn't want to be associated with it. Islamists made terrorism un-American. In doing so, they reduced the total incidence of terrorism in America. Talk about unintended consequences.

On a completely different note, I couldn't help but notice one other glaring thing in the US data: terrorist acts attributed to "Individual" (a lone terrorist not part of an organization). I checked 200 cases from other countries and did not find one case tagged "Individual". But half of all attributed cases in the US from 2000-2013 are tagged "Individual". The lone gunman thing, where someone flips out and shoots up a Navy base, or bombs a government building because of a conspiracy theory, is distinctively American.

Perhaps Americans really are more enterprising than people of other nations. Perhaps other countries can't do the detective work to attribute acts to individuals. Perhaps their rate of non-lone wolf terrorism is so high that the lone wolf terrorists disappear in the data. Perhaps we're more accepting of "defending our freedom" as an excuse for shooting people. Perhaps psychotic delusions of being oppressed don't thrive well in countries that have plenty of highly-visible oppression. But perhaps Americans really do have a staggeringly-higher rate of mental illness than everyone else in the world. (Yes, suspicious study is suspicious, but... it is possible.)
Comment author: chaosmage 31 December 2014 11:54:31PM *  0 points [-]

If somebody had written it in 1925, it'd be in the public domain now, and could be legally ripped off.

But that couldn't actually be relevant, could it? I haven't read Klages. But if Klages or Tillich aren't being referenced, maybe their writing could be worth a comparison.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 01 January 2015 03:38:36AM *  6 points [-]

Reading further, the argument isn't what I expected. It's just 2 steps:

  1. Language doesn't correspond to reality.
  2. Therefore, whatever meaning we find in language comes from God.

This is presented on pages 93-120. For point 1 he cites Wittgenstein, and for point 2 he cites Derrida, who wrote much later. He may be abusing Derrida, though it's hard to say what either Derrida or Steiner means by "God".

I think I understand how Steiner thinks now. He really means it when he says words are a game that doesn't correspond to reality. He doesn't argue points because he doesn't believe his statements have a truth-value corresponding to reality. Advancing a new thesis, to him, is exactly like writing a new novel that references previous novels. You don't have to ask whether the previous novels were true. You are just taking what they said as the next step in the game. That's why to him, a citation counts the same as a proof, and why he never questions whether the sources he cite are correct or contradict each other. It is enough for him that someone has said it; it is now part of the game.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 31 December 2014 06:56:13PM 0 points [-]

If he means something else, he ought to mention the difference. He ought to say that this was a separate transition at about the same time, or that it is modernism, but the distinctive property of modernism is different than people generally think.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 December 2014 08:44:39PM *  2 points [-]

One of the more bizarre things about the book is that it sounds like it was written in 1925. His definition of art would lead directly to Gertrude Stein's "poetry"; his explication of the need to destroy the meanings of words to free the artist is a paraphrase of William Carlos Williams. He mentions Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Diderot, and Derrida, but only in passing (so far). His beliefs about language resembles TS Eliot's; his defense of it amounts to citing 19th-century French poets and early Wittgenstein. He never mentions that his definition of art and his theory of meaning are the same ones that led to post-modern art, which he never brings up even though the entire book seems to be aimed at discrediting post-modern art. He seems to be backing up to 1925 and trying to give neo-modernist theory a second go, only with Catholic mysticism this time, without citing the neo-modernists or admitting that post-modernism happened. Neither "modernism" nor "post-modernism" appear in the index. (Nothing at all appears in the index except for the names of artists, works of art, and critics, which tells you a lot about how Steiner thinks.)

His section on [modernism] begins, "We are, I believe, at present within a transformative, metamorphic process which began, rather abruptly, in Western Europe and Russia during the 1870s," and on p. 93 summarizes his discovery by saying, "It is my belief that this contract [that words can describe reality] is broken for the first time, in any thorough and consequent sense, in European, Central European and Russian culture and speculative consciousness during the decades from the 1870s to the 1930s. It is this break of the covenant between word and world which constitutes one of the very few genuine revolutions of spirit in Western history and which defines modernity itself" [emphasis his]. It is a textbook definition of modernism, yet he seems to be claiming it as his own discovery. Elsewhere he vomits references to prior works uncontrollably, yet in this section, while he continues citing at least one pre-1925 source per sentence, he cites no one past that date and gives no hint that anybody else has ever noticed this phenomenon.

His take on modernism is that it is the death of logocentrism. This is a common thing to say nowadays, and a concise interpretation of modernism. I don't think he originated that idea, either. It looks from Google like it was used this way by Tillich in 1926, Bergson in 1941, Maurelos in 1964, and Derrida in the 1970s, though I'm only looking at references to their works. Wikipedia says Ludwig Klages invented the term "logocentrism" in the 1920s.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 December 2014 05:43:15PM *  3 points [-]

That suggests people around that level of intelligence have reached the point where they no longer feel it necessary to differentiate themselves from the sort of people who aren't smart enough to understand that there might be side benefits to death.

This is an interesting hypothesis, but applying it to LessWrong requires that the LW community has a consensus on how people rank by intelligence, that that consensus be correct, and that people believe it is correct. My impression is that everybody thinks they're the smartest person in the room, and judges everyone else's intelligence by how much they agree. I don't believe there is any accurate LW consensus on the intelligence of its members. Person X will always rate people of similar intelligence to perself as having the highest intelligence.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 31 December 2014 08:42:15AM *  10 points [-]

I'm skeptical of this as the explanation.

You suggest that his core argument is one that draws on a multiple domains in which he is not an expert in, but he hides this by spreading out his core argument extremely thin, to the point of there being only a single sentence's worth of the argument in a whole chapter. But if the argument is really spread that thin, then very few people who read the book would actually pick up on even the rough gist of the core argument, because it would get buried under everything else.

To me, this suggests that your thesis is false, and that the things that you've picked out as his core argument aren't actually his core argument: or if they are, they are not the core argument that most of his critics became persuaded of and are responding to.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 December 2014 05:15:12PM *  4 points [-]

That's a good skepticism to have. I've wondered myself how he will summarize it; the last chapter doesn't have any obvious recap. I have probably miscontrued at least part of his argument, since I've read only half the book. It would be more fair to have waited until I finish the book, but I don't think I'm going to finish the book.

"Important to the argument" is not a binary predicate. I picked what seemed to me the most-important parts, the pieces he could not do without. But most things are related at least indirectly. For instance, there's a section in-between the 2nd and 3rd points I picked where he dismisses the counter-theory that the choice of the literature canon is the result of a convergence, over centuries, by humanity on right judgement of works of literature (p. 67-69). This is well-reasoned and important in its own right, and it supports his catastrophic argument (everything changed because of modernism) by undercutting an opposing gradualist argument (and also bolsters his running theme of "most people are stupid", which is necessary to defend <his claims that almost everybody else has got everything wrong> from Aumann agreement). But it isn't part of the "proof" of his thesis. On p. 87-95, he describes modernism, which is a concept used at the core of his argument, but describing it is also not part of his proof. (Curiously, he never uses the word "modernism", and seems to think his discovery of this historical transition is entirely novel.)

There are parts I didn't count as critical that seemed to be very important to him, such as his definition of art as "the maximalization [sic] of semantic incommensurability". Perhaps he works these in later. I also didn't count times when he repeats or rephrases an assertion made earlier, not to support it, but to use it as a now-proven fact to prove other things.

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