Disempowering Terrorists

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This article is part of the Controversial Question Series. Its purpose is not to come to final answers or even to reach a consensus. It is simply to explore the breadth of opinion in the space development community. You can help Lunarpedia by participating in the exploration (or roasting) of this question or proposal.

Using Space Exploration to
Disempower Terrorists


Although it is not obvious, the American space effort can make an important contribution to disempowering terrorists. Here are summaries of two possible ideas for action:

But what's this have to do with returning to the Moon?

One of the most powerful reasons that our return to the Moon effort is not now robust is simply that most of the available resources are being spent on the War on Terror. Either we find effective ways to address the terrorist problem or we will have to wait more decades to return to the Moon while current historical events simply run their course.

Mission as a Vision for the Nation

If our enemies use examples of trash from our culture, be it strip malls or porn stars, to condemn us, it is time to bring forward the very best our society has to offer as rebuttal through action.

At the turn of the 21st century, many lists of American achievements were compiled. Apollo to the Moon was reliably in the top five of all the lists of what we are most proud of accomplishing in the 20th century. The top one is usually listed is the winning of WWII.

Space missions are just the sort of thing we need to do and boast of doing right now. The specific mission might be the Return to the Moon, the science to understand climate change, the search for life in the universe, or anything else that Congress deems worthy. The point is that we are ready, willing, and able to show proudly the right stuff that American society is made of.

The problem is not a lack of heroism of the American soldier. The problem is not a lack of heroism in the American space corps. We have done great things and we can do great things. We can look the dangers straight in the eye. We do not shy away from the dangers of space and we will not shy away from the threats of terrorists.

To date, I have barely heard this justification for our missions expressed. Yet we cannot say this often enough.

Buy-in as the Key to Terrorist Recruitment

Human beings have a basic mental process that helps us complete huge projects in groups. It has a number of names but technical people usually call it buy-in. In this process a person hears about an idea, takes it up as their own, gets into action, and stays in action.

Once we give this phenomena a name and start studying it as a people management tool, a number of powerful insights follow. One of these insights is how terrorist recruiting works, why technical people too often become terrorists, and how to stop this.

What is buy-in?

This exploration makes the most sense if you can get a gut feeling for buy-in. Most technical people can do this just by remembering an example from their own life. Think back to a time when:

  1. Someone presented an idea to you using language and graphics
  2. You envisioned yourself succeeding with the idea. I mean a clear, sharp daydream that was probably wildly optimistic.
  3. You then felt moved to express your excitement in language.
  4. You got into action.
  5. You stayed in action for a very long time.
  6. When your energy lagged, you thought back on your original daydream and your energy revived.
These steps define classic Buy-In.

Most scientists and engineers can easily think of examples from their lives. Of course, it helps that you probably were in action on the idea for years and that daydreams are so memorable. A good buy-in can be established in 10 seconds and keep you in action for a decade. No other human mental process does this nearly so well.

Buy-in has been the foundation human process for all technical projects, from the building of the pyramids, to the gothic cathedrals, and right up to Apollo to the Moon. A more detailed explanation can be found at:

Lunarpedia, Buy-In Explained

What does this have to do with terrorism?

Recruiting terrorists is an extreme form of generating buy-in. An idea of heavenly success is so powerfully presented that it can even override fear of death. The recruit then gets in action through many problems and setbacks.

This effect explains why technical people are such easy marks for recruitment. We are thoroughly drilled in accepting buy-in for technical projects, but we are not trained in its precise nature nor are we sophisticated in its use.

Once you understand how buy-in is generated, it is easy to understand how to block it. Simply put, if a person envisions personal failure, that person will not buy in. A few minutes after the talk they will have forgotten all the ideas presented and will never be in action on them. It is that simple.

The American space program can own buy-in lock, stock, and barrel, just by publicly laying our claim. We have used buy-in with great skill for years. We own the best examples. And we now know how the process works.

We can teach every technically trained person on Earth to manage their personal buy-in. Once they just hear that they can do it, usually they jump at the chance to learn this skill: this knowledge gives you great power in your personal life.

How can we apply buy-in to this problem?

Implementation of the buy-in approach will be aimed directed at technically trained people; engineers, scientists, doctors, oil people, computer people, communication people, airline pilots, etc. If recruited for terrorism, these people can do the more damage to the American people than any other group. If we can reduce the recruitment of this group significantly, the entire structure of the terrorist problem will shift to our advantage.

An enormous amount of work will be needed to find the most effective implementation stratagems. Work at two levels, personal and family, is currently envisioned.


First on the personal level, technical people are a sponge for technical knowledge. We want to know all the new stuff so we can fit the new information into what we already know and fine some advantage in the process. New information can be cool. This effect is well illustrated with a short joke:

A man is walking along and sees a frog sitting on a wall along his path. The frog says, “Kiss me and I will turn into a beautiful princess.” The man picks up the frog puts it in his shirt pocket and walks on. After a few minutes the frog sticks it head out of the pocket and says, ”Didn’t you hear what I said?” The man replies “Yes I did, but I am an engineer. I do not have time to date but a talking frog, now that is really cool.”

In this sense, knowing the latest science is cool, having power over your own brain is cool, and managing your own buy-in is cool. Fortunately leaning to spot and shield yourself from unwanted buy-ins is very easy to learn. We need only make it cool.

This approach does require that we complete the hard science research of buy-in (see below). We will have to keep this effort hot for some time to generate several waves of interest. We then have to get the word out in a manner that is cool to technical people. This largely involves exploiting internet and word of mouth at universities.

The desired effect is simply to strengthen individual people’s resistance to bad buy-ins.


Second, we need to recognize the power of the family in Muslim culture. Most of the young people we are targeting were influenced, or at least supported, in choosing a conservative technical field of study so that they would not choose a field that would be more likely to lead them astray, such as social, political, or religious studies.

The participation of moderate Muslim families is critical to any solution of the terrorist problem. They too want very much to control this problem. It will take considerable effort, particular on the part of technical people from the Muslim culture, to develop the new understanding of buy-in to be a tool that the moderate Muslim family can use. I am sure that this can be done. These people want and need just such new tools.

No one approach to addressing terrorism is a sure thing. No single effort will do the whole job. Many small efforts are needed. Developing buy-in as a tool for this purpose holds great promise.

Is there a hard scientific basis for buy-in? Yes, or at least, soon

Since the 1990’s we have been making enormous strides in understanding the working of the human brain. Much of this work has been done with the functional Magnet Resonant Imager (fMRI). With it we have identified dozens of small modules in the human brain that evolved to do specific purposes. This field of study is called Modular Brain Theory. The modules already identified cover every sort of function -- from identifying human faces to preventing suicide. There are probably at least hundreds more left to be precisely located.

Buy-in has all the marks of a brain module driven function. It is universal in all modern humans, it does not need to be learned, it is associated with known modules, and it can be overridden by conscious will. But we have not yet identified the specific brain module that generates buy-in. We have found the one that generates Eureka moments. This effect, much loved by technical people, is closely related to buy-in, but is not precisely the same.

At this point in the research we should be able to identify the exact buy-in module for the expenditure of a few millions of dollars. The needed instrumentation and trained people are available in this country. We only need get someone to pay them to do this specific task. We could then use that information to explain precisely how terrorist recruiting works and there by cripple it.


If we reduce the ability of terrorist to recruit technical people significantly, the effectiveness of their efforts will be diminished to a level of insignificance. A major campaign explaining buy-in could accomplish this goal.

We do not need to sit back and wait for some one else to fight for us. We can make our own contribution and in the process build our dream to return to the Moon.

And, by the way, welcome to the 21st century.