This is a thought experiment.
Imagine that the tiny nation of Elbonia suffers a Zombie Virus outbreak. Luckily, the virus does not spread easily, but prolonged personal contact with an infected zombie increases the odds of transmission. Once infected, the Elbonian becomes a zombie killer. As it turns out, most people are immune to the virus. Over 99% of the public have no risk of catching it. But 1% is far too many zombie killers.
Imagine we have no way to detect this Elbonian Zombie Virus infection before symptoms occur. And let’s say that the problem started in Elbonia and so far has not gone beyond its borders. There is no cure for the Elbonian Zombie Virus. So what would world health organizations do?
For starters, they would quarantine the entire nation of Elbonia to limit the damage. This is obviously unfair to all uninfected Elbonians but it is also the only practical way to protect the rest of the world. Once the quarantine is in place, the professionals can get to work on a cure.
Now here’s the interesting part. What is the functional difference between the Elbonian Zombie Virus and radical islamic terrorism? In both cases they are spread by prolonged personal contact. In both cases you have no way to identify infected people until there are symptoms. In both cases the “virus” is deadly to both the person infected and those around them.
As we often hear from political pundits, you can’t bomb an idea. And we can see for ourselves that war doesn’t eliminate the “virus” of radical Islamic terrorism. I suggest we start treating terrorism as a medical condition – specifically, like a virus that creates a mental health problem.
In earlier times, people believed mental problems were not health problems in the same way cancer is. Today we recognize that the brain is just another body part that responds to treatment. Sometimes the treatment involves counseling, sometimes drugs, sometimes lifestyle changes. We have lots of buttons we can push to see what works.
I’m fairly certain that the idea virus of radical islamic terror can also respond to mental health treatments, once we figure out the best approach. Here I am talking about using the science of persuasion, along with the tools of the mental health profession, to cure terrorism.
Is that possible, you ask? Absolutely. Generally speaking, a professional persuader with enough time can convince almost anyone of almost anything. But we haven’t tried this approach because our government has decided that terrorism is a criminal and military problem. It isn’t. It is a mental health issue. If we reframe terrorism as a mental health emergency, that frees us to approach it with medical tools and methods more appropriate to the problem.
As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The United States has tools for war and tools for diplomacy. It has no tools for treating a massive mental health issue in a distant land. But we could build those tools.
All we need to do is change our “frame” for terrorism and start treating it as a medical problem. Trump already started that process by suggesting we quarantine the United States from all Muslim immigration – which seems terribly unfair – just to avoid contact with the 1% who might be infected with the radical islamic terror virus. Trump is approaching the problem as if it were a medical emergency. First you quarantine, then you solve.
Trump also says we need to figure out why the terrorists hate us. That tells you he sees it as a mental health problem, although he hasn’t used those words. In our country, thoughts of suicide and mass murder, along with delusions of virgins in the afterlife, would be considered a mental problem and treated as such.
I have no idea whether Trump’s impressive skills at persuasion can stop radical islamic terrorism. But I do know he has the right tools for the job. We can see that already during the campaign.
Clinton’s tool box for fighting terrorism only has weapons and diplomats in it. As president, Trump would have all of that plus persuasion.
Here I pause to tell new readers that I don’t endorse Trump. And my personal views do not line up with any of the candidates on any of the issues except by coincidence in a few places.
If you think this blog post is ridiculous, you should see my book.
My best tweet of the year was this one:
Pundits say Trump has destroyed the Republican party. I say that’s one party down, one to go. The job is only half done. #trump