Are we failing the ideological Turing test in the case of ISIS? (a crazy ideas thread)

by Val2 min read9th Jan 2016108 comments


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It is easy to think of the ISIS as just a bunch of lunatics who kill people because they believe God told them to do it, but if we take a closer look at how they are organized and how successful they are, (and especially how successful they were at the beginning), this seems to be an oversimplification. Sure, most of their lowest level fighters are probably belonging to the "brainwashed and crazy" group, but I guess the leadership is almost certainly not. They know and use modern media very well, they are effective at recruitment, advertising, organization, and secrecy. Their successes are aided by the fact that they know how we think much better than how we know how they think.

Most of what they do seem to be very rational from a utilitarian point of view: they destroy pre-islamic historical monuments (which previous Islamic theocratic governments left intact) to show their supporters that they are in control and that they are serious, they try to trick NATO and the Russians to commit ground troops, so they can recruit the less radical Muslims to defend their homes against "foreign conquerors", and they cater for both the religious fanatics, and for the opportunists. They have many mercenaries on their side, simply because they can pay them better than others in the region. They also gain recruits by promising them wealth and power, so not all their rhetoric is strictly religiously motivated.

With the most repeated assumptions about their true goals and motivations being "they just want power", "they are just crazy", and "they just enjoy being evil", it seems that we are failing the ideological Turing test.

Therefore, I suggest a thread similar to the "Crazy Ideas Threads": let us assume, that the top leadership of ISIS is composed of completely rational and very intelligent individuals, and let's try to guess what their true goals and motivations are. I have a number of ideas, but I can find many arguments both for and against them. I encourage you to criticize the ideas I came up with, and suggest your own theories.


1. The premise of this article is wrong. The ISIS are really just a bunch of idiots, and their apparent successes are only caused by the powers in the region being much more incompetent than ISIS


2. They want to create a sovereign nation and become its ruling elite.

The problem with this is that their current economic model is unsustainable in the long term. When conquering and looting new territory makes up most of your income, once you exhausted an area, you need to find new places to conquer. When you can no longer do it, your economy collapses. Until now, looting the towns they conquered, selling artifacts and robbing the banks found in the town made up a large part of their income. They have no real industry to speak of, except for selling the oil extracted by already existing infrastructure. If you think this is the real answer, please indicate a realistic economic model for the geographical area which is mostly defined by the power vacuum they managed to exploit, and which as of today seems to be mostly filled by them, making them unlikely to continue to gain significant new territories.


3. They just want to amass as much wealth as possible, and then comfortably retire to some secluded place.

The problem with this is that they made some of the greatest powers on the planet their enemies, who will have a high probability of finding and hunting them down if they, for example, just retire to a sunny beach of a tropical island.


4. Trying to make their ideology more dominant (aka spreading Islam in general)

I find this the least likely as the main goal. Also, if this was the case, they are counterproductive. So far Islam was very successful in the last few decades to gain a bigger and bigger foothold in the Western world, helped both by demographics and by the predominantly left-leaning political elite in Europe encouraging the acceptance of and submission to Islamic culture in Europe instead of encouraging the immigrants to abandon their culture for the culture of the host nations. However, the recent terrorist attacks, and the many atrocities committed by the recently arrived asylum seekers, while hurting European economy, will probably lead to Europe being more skeptical regarding Islam, which might reduce the chances of Islam peacefully and silently spreading. So these events, if indeed orchestrated by ISIS, might have been successful in harming the economy of their enemies, but I don't know what an effect they had on the spreading of Islam. I'm tending on believing in a negative effect, but I just don't know enough factors to know it for sure. I believe the violent attacks in the Western world are done mostly to show their own followers at home how powerful they are and how weak their enemies are.

Other, not necessarily rational motivations:

- they just saw an opportunity and exploited it, they have no long term contingency plans.

- they really believe that what they do will, in the long therm, benefit the people in the region.


Note: by presenting the above theories, my goal was not to claim them to be true or false. My goal is to listen to interesting ideas and theories which maybe didn't occur to me before.

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