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Christchurch To Sao Paulo: Our Age Of Nihilistic Terrorism

The white supremacist who killed 50 at New Zealand mosques is like other mass killers attached to myths of ideological identity that lack any real political horizon.

Policemen arrive at the school where a shooting occurred in Suzano city
Policemen arrive at the school where a shooting occurred in Suzano city
Mariano Turzi

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — How can we interpret a terror attack like the one perpetrated in New Zealand? The main hypothesis is that today's world is the setting of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, with roots dating back centuries. Irreconcilable differences between their values make conflict inevitable.

Sometimes it will erupt in episodes like ISIS decapitating hostages, and other times, as a gun rampage by a white supremacist at a mosque in Christchurch. And yet when we look at attacks undertaken by people who do not identify themselves as religious, we must find an alternative hypothesis to explain their terrorism. No, this wave of global terrorism is not an episode of the Crusade-versus-Jihad saga.

mourning_in_Christchurch

New Zealanders mourn victims of the Christchurch shooting — Photo: PJ Heller/Xinhua/ZUMA

The New Zealand shooting has more in common with another, recent shooting in a Sao Paulo school than with socio-political or theological differences between Christendom and Islam. We propose this explanation: in our time, terrorists can adopt any badge, from religious fervor to ethnic purity or national integrity, even if they are ultimately all just attire and fantasy. They are myths of an ideological identity that is strategically impossible and lacks any political horizon or utopian destination reachable through violence alone. These are not members of organizations or even "lone wolves' acting for an admired if distant leader. There are no institutional, ideological or tribal foundations to this terrorism.

The thing about chaos...

It is instead far more a manifestation of individual nihilism, or the conviction that the conditions of existence are so bad it merits destruction. And this, in this age of globalization where destructive capabilities have risen exponentially. Today it is easy and an inexpensive to find means of inflicting more pain, more quickly, which means violence will no longer be a means but just an end in itself. There is no political solution to this, or a deal to negotiate.

Regarding the causes of this violence, the prognosis is not good: this nihilism is a reaction to structural processes. God has died, globalization reduces millions to poverty, nation-states have lost control and polarization is tearing societies apart. There is no Divine order today, nor global powers with the authority or will to impose order, nor any grand economic model or revolutionary promises to transform the system.

The uncertainties and threats of our global (dis)order are even making the splendid option of isolation impossible. So expect more of this nihilistic violence, as a frightening if endemic response to the existential angst of our time. The Joker explains the logic in a Batman film: "Upset the established order and everything becomes chaos," the infamous villain declares. "Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair!"

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Future

Injecting Feminism Into Science Is A Good Thing — For Science

Feminists have generated a set of tools to make science less biased and more robust. Why don’t more scientists use it?

As objective as any man

Anto Magzan/ZUMA
Rachel E. Gross

-Essay-

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a mystery played out across news headlines: Men, it seemed, were dying of infection at twice the rate of women. To explain this alarming disparity, researchers looked to innate biological differences between the sexes — for instance, protective levels of sex hormones, or distinct male-female immune responses. Some even went so far as to test the possibility of treating infected men with estrogen injections.

This focus on biological sex differences turned out to be woefully inadequate, as a group of Harvard-affiliated researchers pointed out earlier this year. By analyzing more than a year of sex-disaggregated COVID-19 data, they showed that the gender gap was more fully explained by social factors like mask-wearing and distancing behaviors (less common among men) and testing rates (higher among pregnant women and health workers, who were largely female).

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