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Crime, technology and society by Angus Bancroft
Radicalisation or self discovery? Desire in a turbulent world

Radicalisation or self discovery? Desire in a turbulent world

There has been a lot of recent conversation about radicalisation through different forms. Mumsnet has been blamed for radicalising its participants. There is an implied theory of change here. It is that radicalisation works something like environmental exposure. Radicalisation is like pollution in the info sphere. Exposure to small doses leads to exposure much bigger doses. I am cagey about this, because when you strip out the content, a lot of the concern aboutlooks like concerns about communist influence in the Cold War era. We would recognise that people involved in the communist parties in Europe were often motivated by socially desirable goals, even as they support a totalitarian movement set on destroying everything we hold dear.

There are some well rehearsed problems with that. For one, it tends to downplay agency. Another is that it is content free in theory, but not in practice. So, in theory, it does not consider what attracts people in, or why they might consider the particular goals of the radicalised movement to be ones that speak to them. In practice, however when we look at what topics are focused on as problems of radicalisation it is clear we are being very selective about them. I do not think that is entirely helpful because we really need to be explicit about the qualities that we are concerned about. We also need to understand a lot more about what motivates people and what they think they are doing when they participate in radicalised activity. Writing it off as “hate“ does not really grasp what is going on.

There are some background assumptions that people who supporting populist movements or disappear into conspiracies, are clearly wrong. So obviously wrong that we do not really need to talk about the content of what they believe. We should be doing that even from as simple idea sphere perspective. We would want to examine how these‘s ideas, evolve and are coherent in some sense. and we should examine if they are true, or reasonable. Now fair enough, I do not think that Donald Trump is really fighting a paedophile conspiracy. But I do think is a reasonable question to ask if Covid lockdowns were a proportionate response, and if they were successful in their own terms.

The point being, you’re not going to oppose these ideas very well if you do not recognise their nature. What I want to say, here is that radicalisation is an aspect of quite a natural process of self development. You see something wrong with an idea. No one in your tribe or team is talking about it. So you look elsewhere for people who are doing that. When you join them, what they are saying, makes more sense than others. I would call that self-discovery or evolution not radicalisation. A QAnon person is moving into a new state of being. The attraction is that you think they have the goods on everyone else. That justifies the frequent isolation that is involved, and which causes distress to their loved ones. What follows from that is radicalisation is about desire. As MacDougall (2018) shows, a burning need for justice and sensitivity to injustice and status can drive people forward. As we would recognise from long experience with various social movements, people can use it desire for social justice as a way of obtaining personal status.

Macdougall, Alex I., et al. “Different strokes for different folks: The role of psychological needs and other risk factors in early radicalisation.” International Journal of Developmental Science12.1-2 (2018): 37-50.


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