SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

"Lost Boys"


Why is the "terrorism cadre" mostly inhabited by young males? Jennifer Wells at Toronto Star reviews the research:

[Lionel] Tiger is the Darwin Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University. His seminal work, Men in Groups, published in 1969, coined the term "male bonding" — surely one of the catchiest catchphrases of all time — and he has remained at the forefront of research into boys as a societal class ever since.

"The terrorism of Bin Laden," Tiger wrote in Slate, "harnesses the chaos of young men, uniting the energies of political ardour and sex in a turbulent fuel."

The Boys of Bin Laden represented a microscopic subclass of extremism. Yet Tiger's essay triggered the broader, discomfiting question: Is there something in the makeup of young men that might make them especially malleable, or prime fodder, for Al Qaeda and related enterprises? In the wake of the recent arrests of five male minors among a group of 17 alleged terrorists here at home, the question yet again arises: why boys?

[...]

"Dealing with young males is the most difficult issue," he says. "They are hormonally deranged, or at least charged. They are all seeking somehow to establish themselves as potentially useful full-grown adults. They have a commitment to a kind of bonded or micro-corporate identity, which is very strong."

[...]

So being part of the group is part of our biological heritage. And status matters. "It's also part of the fact we're highly social," says Peterson. "It's probably particularly relevant for young men between the ages of 16 and 26 ... Having a group not only gives you an identity but provides you with distributed social protection."

In discussing the emotional urges of adolescence, Marc Lewis, professor of human development and applied psychology at U of T, refers to the "chemical fuel of the brain" — its neuromodulator systems. "Your goals and plans and urges get charged up," says Lewis. "However, development of the prefrontal cortex, especially the more dorsal part, is not complete."

What that means, continues Lewis, is that the "good sort of high-level thinking-ahead stuff" — planning, preparing, comparing different outcomes, adjusting strategies — doesn't finish maturing until the individual reaches his early 20s. The delay in the maturation of boys puts them, "to the extent that we know," says Lewis, about two years behind girls.

Anyone who has witnessed the fearless, risk-taking, locked-in-the-moment, need-for-speed behaviours of some young men may recognize such traits. This at a time when they are their most physically powerful, most aggressive, most at the mercy of testosterone surges.

So being part of the group is part of our biological heritage. And status matters. "It's also part of the fact we're highly social," says Peterson. "It's probably particularly relevant for young men between the ages of 16 and 26 ... Having a group not only gives you an identity but provides you with distributed social protection."

In discussing the emotional urges of adolescence, Marc Lewis, professor of human development and applied psychology at U of T, refers to the "chemical fuel of the brain" — its neuromodulator systems. "Your goals and plans and urges get charged up," says Lewis. "However, development of the prefrontal cortex, especially the more dorsal part, is not complete."

What that means, continues Lewis, is that the "good sort of high-level thinking-ahead stuff" — planning, preparing, comparing different outcomes, adjusting strategies — doesn't finish maturing until the individual reaches his early 20s. The delay in the maturation of boys puts them, "to the extent that we know," says Lewis, about two years behind girls.

Anyone who has witnessed the fearless, risk-taking, locked-in-the-moment, need-for-speed behaviours of some young men may recognize such traits. This at a time when they are their most physically powerful, most aggressive, most at the mercy of testosterone surges.


Read the rest.

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