Posted by: aboutalbion | June 16, 2015

Radicalisation explained two generations ago

I came across the following explanation of adolescent radicalisation and extremism in a 1968 text this morning.

“In general it is the inability to settle on an occupational identity which most disturbs young people.  To keep themselves [psyschologically] together they temporarily overidentify with the heroes of cliques and crowds to the point of an apparently complete loss of individuality.  …

On the other hand, clarification [of one’s identity] can also be sought by destructive means.  Young people can become remarkably clannish, intolerant, and cruel in their exclusion of others who are “different”, in skin colour or cultural background, in tastes and gifts, and often in entirely petty aspects of dress and gesture arbitrarily selected as the sign of an in-grouper or out-grouper.  It is important to understand in principle (which does not mean to condone in all of its manifestations) that such intolerance may be, for a while, a necessary defence against a sense of identity loss.  …  [In so doing] they also insistently test each other’s capacity for sustaining loyalties in the midst of inevitable conflicts of values.

The readiness for such testing helps to explain the appeal of simple and cruel totalitarian doctrines among the youth of such countries and classes as have lost (or are losing) their group identities – feudal, agrarian, tribal, or national.  The democracies are faced with the job of winning these grim youths by convincingly demonstrating to them – by living it – that a democratic identity can be strong and yet tolerant, judicious and still determined.  But industrial democracy poses special problems in that it insists on self-made [“you can achieve any goal if you try”] identities …in [political] oratory.”

[Erik H Erikson (1968) Identity: Youth and Crisis. Norton & Co, New York and London. p132f]

What I find disturbing in the UK at the moment is the government’s concentration on Muslim radicalisation, and its blindness to parallel Jewish and Christian radicalisation activities.

All three monotheisms claim that their ‘general manager of the universe’ has a vested interest in land.  And therefore, to my mind, there is no good reason to hold back from referring to all monotheistic extremist groups as para-political parties.  It further follows that, in their absence from democratic politics, these extremist groups need a supply of radicalised adolescents who can be trained for ‘militia’ activities.

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