General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual
Not “Terrorists” – “Mass Murderers”

by Milton Dawes

Albert Einstein: “The world we have created is a product of our thinking.”

Thinking About Thinking

As I watched the collapse of the World Trade Center on television, and contemplated the number of people working in the towers, and their families, friends, colleagues, I felt an overwhelming sadness. This feeling compared to my reactions 38 years ago in Jamaica when I heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

Many years ago this thought came to me: From the infinite possibilities of our genetic expressions, could it be that there will always be individuals whom I might classify as “anti-humans”? Could it be that there are certain behaviors that reflect what we might call a “species disease”? Notwithstanding our great scientific, technical, religious and other achievements, could there be something ‘wrong’ with us at genetic levels that make wars inevitable?Is the earth too small to support so many ways of thinking about things. Like on a busy sidewalk, are we stepping on each other’s world view toes; unwittingly pushing and bumping each other’s values around?We tend to respond to events such as the attack on the World Trade Center and murder of over six thousand humans, mainly through political, legal, economic, national, tribal and military pressures. That seems to me to represent our easier, unavoidable short-term traditional reactions. Since we seem locked into traditional ways of thinking, I wonder if we will ever change our ways of thinking and face the harder, longer-term task….that of looking at ourselves as a species…. and think of the problems of terrorists, mass murderers and wars, as a problem of the species – a disease of the species – maintained by it’s present beliefs-values-language structures-and ways of thinking. Could one way of keeping our disease under control be an approach that involves “thinking about the ways we think about things”?

Meeting the Challenge

I think it a mistake to label the individuals and groups that committed this atrocity “terrorists”. This term I qualify as a euphemism, in terms of the acts and consequences it relates to. We behave according to how we label. Therefore, individuals who murder many others should more accurately be described as “mass murderers”. Mass murderers murder indiscriminately.

In our campaign against mass murderers, we might be more successful if we consider the killing of over six thousand individuals not as a “terrorist attack”, but rather as “mass murder”. As the victims were citizens of several dozen different nationalities, and different religions, with different ‘world views’, we ought not to consider these as attacks “on America”, but rather as murder committed specifically against all citizens of the world who hold different ‘world views’ than the murderers. This distinction might make a difference in terms of the world-wide support President Bush can win from societies across the world. By emphasizing how murderers have attacked “the civilized world”, “humanity”, and “freedom”, other nations and other societies will inevitably drawn into a shared sense of purpose. On the other hand, if the United States portrays the attack as simply “on America”, attempts to rally international support might be resented, rather than embraced.

But suppose other nations are motivated to recognize the threat to their existence? What if the main body of Muslims recognized the threat to the way they interpret and practice their religion? I speculate they will very likely be energized to act on their own behalf, in terms of their own survival – and in concert with America, rather than facing internal opposition, accusing them of being led by America.


As time-binders we have the ability to learn from others over time, to learn from ourselves, and to improve on what we have learned from our predecessors.

We must learn rapidly how to deal with this new strain of “mass murderers”.

The nineteen murderers and their support groups who destroyed over six thousand human beings planned well. We have to plan better if ‘we’ (those of use who aren’t mass murderers) are to meet the challenges of survival in the 21st. Century.

The mass murderers were very patient in planning and executing their attacks. We have to exercise even more patience.

Their objectives were precise, well-defined and not indiscriminate. We must be even more precise and highly discriminating in our responses, and we must consider that our actions may have subsequent consequences that might last for centuries.

The mass murderers were united in their determination and purpose. We must not only agree on shared goals and approaches in the near term, but we must embrace these as long-term commitments.

The individuals who murder masses of other individuals move freely among us, yet are invisible as “mass murderers”. Our fighters on the front line against these murderers must make themselves invisible to the enemy, even while our leaders make very a public and visible front.

These mass murderers are smart individuals. We have to be smarter. They are not insane. They will be aware of many of our preventive measures, and will act accordingly. We have to recognize and anticipate this, and be ready to quickly change our approaches. We must act wisely.

Mass murderers will employ any tool that serves their anti-human goals – unwitting individuals, explosives, financial, propaganda, electronic, high- tech, low-tech, nuclear, biological, etc. We have to be just as diverse in our responses, and even more so – not ignoring what we claim to be our values.

Mass murderers act from their particular and peculiar world-view and values. Do we know what we stand for, on a global level? I suggest it has to go beyond, has to be broader than ‘nationality’, ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘our way of life’, and so on.

On a much broader scale, we have to start recognizing ourselves as interdependent, co-evolving, human beings. At national levels – even international levels – we have to start teaching our children to recognize the shared values of the global societies and cultures in which will live, and work, and travel.

Feuding, 21st. Century Style?

In an old time feud, a member of one family or group killed a member of another family or group. Then there were retaliations – and more retaliations. And so on, and on, and on.

There are camps for teaching terrorism and mass murder. Children are trained in these camps – a new generation of potential mass murderers. Are we to imagine a world with so-called ‘spiritual’ humans trained as murderers, up in arms against so called ‘materialistic’ humans?

Mass murderers are not from outer space – they are human beings who have developed in an entirely different semantic environment from ours. We can, however, attempt to understand them by looking at ourselves, at our perspectives and world views. This will be difficult. We find it easier to look outwards than to look inwards. We have to work at understanding what bothers them, and what they are encouraged to be bothered by. Eliminating ten, or one hundred, or even a thousand of them will not suffice. If what drives these humans is not attended to, if we do not work at uncovering how we might be contributing to the problem, it will generate more of them. Can we, all of us (‘east’ and ‘west’, individuals and leaders), meet the challenges that face us, by thinking about the ways we think?

Can we work at improving our traditional and familiar ways of thinking about things – recognizing that we act according to how we think?

Understanding What We Are Up Against

Bullets, missiles and guns cannot win a war against international mass murderers. We have to develop more psychological skills and become concerned with cultural anthropological issues. To begin to understand what we could be up against, we could ask ourselves this: “What factors might be contributing to a state of mind that moves some humans to commit mass murder?”

Here is one hypothesis. We could describe the situation that confronts us as a clash of values and rhythms. It could be that America and the ‘western’ powers are seen as moving too fast and too free, as being too powerful and too influential. This might pose a threat to those in power in slower moving, less energetic, more paternalistic, less free societies. What they identify as the “modern way” might be felt by those in power as too enticing to the young they rule – a danger to their simpler (not as complex) ways of living, and a threat to their culture and power status.

The situations that face us require a quantum jump in wisdom. We have an opportunity to move towards a different world order, with higher levels of international relationships and cooperation. But if we are not careful, we might find ourselves on the verge of a new world disorder – the terrible possibility of ongoing international guerrilla war.

Albert Einstein observed: “The world we have created is a product of our thinking.”

And Alfred Korzybski warned: “If we live in a modern world, but keep the ’emotional attitudes’ of primitive bygone days, then naturally we are bound to be semantically unbalanced, and cannot be adjusted to a fundamentally primitive ‘civilization’ in the midst of great technical achievements.”

To meet the challenges that face us in this century, we have to change our ways of thinking. The discipline of general semantics provides us with some guidelines and standards for other ways of thinking and thinking about our thinking. And since we behave as we think, and feel as we think, improving our thinking will help us improve our relationships with ourselves, others, and the world we live in.

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