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"You are one of the few experts on the subject" - Input Junkie
January 14th, 2011
07:19 am


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"You are one of the few experts on the subject"
A Secret Service study of political assassins in the US concludes that the major motivation is a desire for fame, not political goals.

The study found 83 people in jail who'd attempted or completed political assassination and interviewed them (the subject line is part of the pitch to get them to talk about their motives) and researched what could be found out about them. A major motivation turned out to be wanting to be famous rather than invisible.

I wouldn't be an American if I didn't tell you what you and everyone else must do right now to prevent assassinations. And blame you for not having done it already.

One option is to be kinder to people you'd rather avoid. If you're not feeling flattened enough, here's a complaint about geeks not ostracizing enough people. Little did you know that geeks were keeping politicians safe.

Another is to not publicize assassinations.

Perhaps another is to teach social skills. Or encourage hobbies. I don't know if it's been studied, but I also wouldn't be an American if I didn't float an opinion based on no evidence, and I suspect that assassins are people who don't have enough harmless fun in their lives.

The web may make assassination less likely if it's easier to achieve small scale fame for people with bad social skills. Who knows, maybe even trolling makes assassination less likely.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/460440.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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Date:January 14th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
83 political assassins in US jails? There must be many more assassinations than I realised. That suggests that terrorism in the US is on a scale the IRA can only have dreamed of.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2011 01:17 pm (UTC)
Some of the assassins were intercepted before they attacked. Also, are you allowing for the difference in population size?
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
Even accounting for population size it seems like a lot though if it includes everyone involved in some kind of vague plot I guess it's not so many.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)
It says people "who'd attempted or completed" assassinations. That most likely includes people who only got as far as the planning stage.

I suspect the psychology is similar for the Phelpses. They picketed the funeral of the nine-year-old girl who was shot in Tucson because she was Catholic and "God hates Catholics." Why her and not millions of other Catholics, if not because they wanted to be hated and publicized for it?
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
the major motivation is a desire for fame, not political goals

Sounds like Peter Gabriel ("Family Snapshot") got it in one, then. (It was based on a true story, so he had a better basis for the lyrics than mere speculation. Still, spot on.)
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
Interesting. The Tucson shooter seems to me more like a mass murderer with an assassination-themed attack than an assassin, but I don't know that many assassins.

I once read something that made what seemed to me a pretty good case that the media attention paid to mass murderers encourages them. The author talked about things like how the Virginia Tech killer took inspiration from the Columbine killers. (I'm avoiding using the names of these killers under what I remember as a recommendation from this author. Maybe my description will ring a bell for you, Nancy, or someone else here, and you can tell me who this author is!)
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Date:January 14th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)

I like the term "prospective excludee" from the link. Sounds delightfully complicit.

I guess using the web to create small explosions of fame from minimal effort could be called the Samwell Method. I kinda like it as a solution: it reminds me of the pilot episode of The Thick of It, which had teenage African revolutionaries taking journalists hostage because they wanted to make internet viral videos. Or maybe the illusion of such fame could be created using sophisticated chatbots. Unless fame is addictive, in which case maybe the best solution would be to make it absolutely unattainable for anyone but a pretty, young, preferably genetically-engineered and therefore predestined overclass. Then the rest of us could just forget about it.

To be boringly literal for a moment, not publicizing assassinations strikes me as unworkable anyway, and probably repugnant for several reasons. Teaching social skills seems like something that's unnecessary for much of the population and wildly difficult for the part that really needs it. Really reaching out to prospective fame-seeking assassins would require that rarest flower, a genuine, tenacious and flexible interest in the PFSA, which would not be put off by their attempts to evade/dissuade it. I'm not sure what to call the one who offers such a thing; "saint" springs to mind, but so does "submissive stalker," and then there's that whole master/slave dialectic thing to consider: will the PFSA respect the respect of the social skills teacher? I foresee trouble.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
Or encourage hobbies.

Sir? We understand from your phone and e-mail transcripts that you've failed to meet your quota of harmless pass times. I'm afraid that for your own safety, and the safety of those around you, we need to take you into custody until you've learned to crochet.
[User Picture]
Date:January 15th, 2011 04:57 am (UTC)
David Brin had something like that in his short story "The Fourth Vocation of George Gustaf".

Everyone in the Total World Social State is required to have six avocations by law. A Vocation (what we would call a real job), a ritual club, an athletic hobby, an altruism hobby, an artistic avocation, and an intellectual avocation. (I may not have that list quite right, but you get the idea.)

To gain a lot of status in that society you try to get more than one of your avocations upgrade to professional level.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC)
By this argument, the rise of reality TV ought to have slightly diminished the frequency of assassination. We need more reality shows for socially marginal contestants, I guess.
[User Picture]
Date:January 15th, 2011 12:34 am (UTC)
A number of bits of Sondheim's musical Assassins come to mind here, including the part about the attempted assassination of FDR, with the assassin having been planning to attack Hoover, but it's winter, and cold in Washington, so he decides to go down to Miami and kill Roosevelt. (And then gets defensive about the idea that he doesn't care who he kills.)
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