I’m sure most of you immediately recognized the reference to Drake’s Equation and wondered, what does this have to do with terrorists?
For my Red Sox fan friends who may be struggling with the analogy, Drake’s Equation was the brainchild of Dr. Frank Drake. In 1961, to stimulate discussion on the probability of intelligent life in the universe (leaving aside the argument if it exists here), Drake came up with a way to hypothesize the number of intelligent civilizations in the universe.
This is an inexact science.
But the salient point is one element of the equation, i.e. the fraction of intelligent civilizations who develop sufficiently advanced technology to make themselves known in the universe. We did it with television. Signals of everything from Hitler’s opening speech at the 1936 Olympics to Moe, Larry, and Curly are winging their way bringing tidings of our culture to ET.
The other element implied, but not explicitly stated, is the fraction of civilizations who develop advanced science such as nuclear technology and survive it. Thus, the link to radicalized fundamentalism and terrorists.
In 1956, the year of my birth, the idea that one day I would carry around a device capable of storing 128 gigabytes of data, or that the entire Library of Congress and almost every printed book that ever existed could be accessed by this same device, was the stuff of science fiction.
Such is the proliferation of technology in the intervening years.
In that same year, 1956, three countries had nuclear weapons. Today, there are at least nine. The US developed them first, followed by the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The technology proliferated through cooperation and espionage. The point being is it could not be contained.
Technology, once released, acts much like a virus. It infects the host (just look around at the cell phone addicts.) Jumps to the next host (because they desire the technology rather than by infection,) and the virus spreads exponentially.
Here’s how Drake can illuminate the solution.
Our response to terrorism is a single dimension solution. Kill them. However, like a virus, you can never quite kill them all. Now imagine if just one small cell of fifty radicalized virulent terrorists, intent on riding the mushroom cloud to the virgin happy hour, obtain a nuclear weapon? The inevitability of such an occurrence, given the unstoppable proliferation of technology, is sobering.
We need to fight more than the symptoms of radicalized fundamentalism. We need to identify and eliminate the underlying cause. Therein lies the greatest risk. We have lost our ability to face complex issues. We want a 144 character answer for a problem requiring a doctoral dissertation.
Given the current inherent disdain for deep rational thought, I wonder if we have it in us as a people.
There are no simple solutions to this problem. How can we kill them all is the wrong question. We need to ask a different one.
Why do otherwise rational intelligent humans see killing themselves and innocent humans as a path to a better life after death?
The answer is simple. Because life for them and their families is not good. It would seem that trying to kill people who believe they would be better off dead is not a viable solution. Despite sophomoric cries to the contrary, it is not our job to arrange their trip to visit their god.
In the short term, we have no choice but the react and defend. But what about long-term?
If we want to survive long enough for the universe to know we are here, we must craft a long-term solution before we flunk the math of Dr. Drake.