Neuroscience explains rising Uber taxi ‘terrorism.’

By: Denise Bjorkman

Today Sandton experienced a violent attack on Uber taxi drivers by metred taxi drivers. Petrol bombing destroyed two cars. The scene was one of overt hatred, exclusion, loss and threat. NBI offers a partial explanation through neuroscience.

There are several possible factors driving taxi violence now in particular against Uber. Fear and threat run central to this and other similar events – but fear of what? The situation also suggests that experiences of social exclusion, rejection from the group or loss or patent are part of this action. This explanation does not make it right. But it does suggest a flawed society with few coping mechanisms coupled to primitive responses under stress or perceived threat. We saw it with Hitler’s ‘Jewish solution’ on a much larger scale. But unchecked we could go a similar way with or without the help of Bell Pottinger.

Is this a new terrorism?

To many it is an act of terrorism aimed to produce an overall effect. Yes, it is, but it fails in one dimension. Terrorists choose largely symbolic targets because they have maximum impact. Well chosen attacks and targets get them very high media coverage to enhance their ‘terrorist’ image and cause enabling further recruitment. This is a qualified act of terror however because it does strike fear in the hearts and minds of other Uber drivers. Its aim is palpable. But the perpetrators were not thinking of the bigger symbolic picture and media. Only the moment counted and a stern message to other drivers. It’s up front and personal. Our conception of terrorism is changing and the changes are becoming normative. Like the ‘terror death’ threats’ against members of the ruling party who fail to follow the party line.

Failed Connections

We have a hardwired need to connect with people, particularly those from family or those who share a common heritage. We are now seeing acts of disruption and breaches of the fabric of society Solid, beneficial connections are absent. But disruption does not only occur in economics. South Africa has seen its own biological disruptions with human slave trafficking, bouts of ethnic cleansing, taxi violence, riots and rape. That names a few categories. With our emotional attachments comes the need to protect. It is the result of this deep and enduring bond between us and others. We are hardwired for this.

An experience of exclusion or loss drives extreme pain however vague the perception. Neuro-researchers have found that loss of acceptance can lead to suicide. It has a profound impact on our well being and our beliefs about our right to live. We know that the same parts of the brain react to pain and rejection. Anger is a response to deep seated fear. We are often not given coping mechanisms to deal with this because this form of rejection can be so covert. The brain susses it out.

Metered taxi drivers belong to a group that engage them as ‘qualified’ members who are then controlled and directed in terms of policy, performance and profit. They belong there and the belonging provides degrees of safety, security and economic survival.

Feeling exclusion from this economic group which provides financial security is a flag for the brain’s amygdala. Its responses know no consequences. The enemy must be obliterated unless a strong moral upbringing has been inculcated.

The solution

Policing, heavier law enforcement and a stern judiciary are only part of the solution. It goes far deeper. The economic vulnerability of traditional taxi drivers to loss will not go away neither will those primitive responses of threat, fear or anger. Their life experiences and good emotions have not been shored up to deal with threat by the pillars of society.

We could argue that our morals and sacred values, with high level regard for human life will or should save the day. This is described as a cost-benefit analysis. It does not. But then are morals taught at school? No. Certainly not in the current government education system it seems. Little Prince George of the UK was introduced into school today to learn good morals we are told. They are learned at home kid. Your parents have other agendas.

Let’s look at brain functioning with decision making. Two different parts of the brain light up . Ask Sandtonians how much they would be prepared to spend on the Gautrain to and fro from work in preference to taxis and the parietal neo-cortex part of the brain lights up. A calculation of costs will take place. A ‘what do I lose and what do I gain scenario.’ But ask some taxi drivers if they would be prepared to kill or enact violence because of threats to their survival – the brain’s temporo-parietal amygdala does more than light up – it’s on fire. Emotions run rife.
A fundamental belief can emerge which becomes immutable. ‘Uber is taking away my business, I am powerless therefore they are evil.’ “An ‘us’ and ’them’ situation is not hardwired into the brain until about the age of 14” confirms Dr Eva Telza. “It is a myth that racial hatred is evolutionary. We are not hardwired to despise our community members. We need them.” Prof Anna Steyn, an erstwhile social science lecturer, hammered home a principle of racial hatred – look to the family and its influences – those who see ‘others’ and not valued members of our community. I have witnessed this indoctrination of children by parents in many towns and cities. After 14 years of age all hell breaks loose as newly discovered curved values take root. And South Africa has paid this price. We see it in Myanmar now as well.

If a deeper understanding of the free market and its processes were taught at school this may not be happening. If teachers and parents taught coping mechanisms in the face of adversity and threat this response would be diminished or non-existent. No military or police force will change this. The answer comes from balanced nurturing, tolerance learned at the mother’s knee and the education system. Look to a tragically flawed educational system (20% pass) the school and the parents (if there are any. So we also get a 20% pass to situations which require a humane response. What do you expect? Copy cat attacks are rife with all crime. It has to be nipped in the bud or else the new terrorism will become our way of life.

A SATAC Open Source Article By Dr Denise Bjorkman

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SATAC Research & Analytics Team

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