This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

“Stupid” Is The Least Of It

Unknown, "A Laughing Fool" (c. 1500)So this Dutch 14-year-old got herself arrested for tweeting a terrorist threat at American Airlines. Copycats inevitably followed, because the world is apparently full of people who think that the worst thing about such tweets is that they are “stupid jokes”.

Jezebel, for example, cautiously defended these Twitter “comedians”:

I get that people want to make a public display of defending the girl who was arrested, because she’s not a dastardly, evil criminal. She’s a stupid teenager just like all of us probably were at one point.

All this takes me back to a time shortly after 9/11, when some sixteen-year-old from Staten Island called multiple fake bomb threats, including several against NY Waterways, a ferry company. At that time, NYC’s other transportation infrastructure was on the fritz, and moreover, many people were still too afraid to take bridges or tunnels in or out of Manhattan. NY Waterways ran lots of extra boats, and for many commuters, it was the only mode of transportation for several months after the disaster. Every time that “stupid teenager”/not-a-dastardly-evil-criminal called a bomb threat — and he always made sure to do it on a weekday, between the hours of 5 and 7 pm — the entire NY Waterways operation was shut down. Every boat and every ferry terminal was evacuated and thoroughly searched for explosives by the police, the FBI and Homeland Security. Tens of thousands of people got stranded in Manhattan for hours, streets surrounding cordoned-off ferry terminals became clogged with desperate crowds, and the whole thing wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ and the ferry’s money. The aforementioned “stupid teenager” — who was not a dastardly, evil criminal! — did this every couple of days for about three weeks before getting arrested, because wreaking havoc on a major city that’s reeling from a recent massive terrorist attack is funny.

At that time, there were also people who defended this “boy” by claiming that what he did was “satire”, or some kind of an elaborate art project, or just a prank that had gotten out of hand — and that arresting and subjecting him to a criminal investigation was excessive and unfair. For my part, “stupid” isn’t the word that comes to mind with regard to those who delight in the suffering, inconveniences and understandable fears of countless people. The sixteen-year-old in question did it because he was a mean little shit, and while I would never demand to see his head on a spike, I sincerely hope the justice system put a hell of a dent in his future.

See, making terrorist threats isn’t just “stupid”. It demonstrates a meanness of spirit characteristic of people who, as adults, go on to punish political opponents by creating traffic gridlocks and undermining public safety. It’s fundamentally sociopathic behavior. It’s a form of bullying — one directed at the general public. The punchline of this “joke” is all the disruption it creates for travelers, transportation companies and law enforcement agencies. People who find this amusing don’t get my sympathy for being insufficiently crafty in their sociopathy.

No, I don’t think this is enough to send a minor to jail. However, I am firmly of the opinion that sociopaths must be curbed early on, by putting considerable obstacles in their path of attaining positions of power and influence later in life. So I won’t lose any sleep if this Dutch teenager or any of her copycats feel sad as a result of a police interrogation, or if a juvenile record damages their educational and career prospects.

But (someone might ask), what if the horror of a criminal investigation causes them to develop low self-esteem, and then they’ll get hooked on drugs and start knocking over convenience stores to support their habit? The deadly spiral of low self-esteem has been the bugbear of Sensitive People for decades. Putting aside the fact that this kind of scenario is very unlikely, if it does come to pass — I can live with that. After all, people who amuse themselves in this manner would do far less damage as common criminals than as lawmakers, corporate executives or stock brokers.

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4 thoughts on ““Stupid” Is The Least Of It

  1. Reddleman on said:

    I do agree such jokes should not be tolerated or even defended, but did it ever occur to you that his prefrontal cortex has not fully developed and the perception of this teenager is not an adult’s? He does not have the ability to foresee the full scope of his actions (which is situated in this cortex). Yes, there are plenty of children who wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing, but on the other hand how could you expect a teenager living in a country smaller than an American state on the other side of the globe to fully understand ‘his joke’. Bad parenthood, yes, criminal, not necessarily.

    Yes, he should get some sort of punishment, but such vengence as stated here is, in my humble opinion, ‘stupid’ as well.

    • The brain thing has occurred to me, which is why I said that minors who do these things should not go to jail. If an adult did it, incarceration would be in order.

      Although teenagers’ brains are not as developed as adults’ (development is ongoing until about the age of 25), I hate seeing this invoked as a facile talking point to suggest that teenagers are basically infants who can’t think rationally at all. Teenagers are most certainly capable of reason, and society recognizes this in many respects. People under 25 are allowed to drive, marry, enter into contracts and handle deadly weapons (hell, in some American states, children far below the age of majority are allowed to handle deadly weapons). The fact that a teenager doesn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions doesn’t exclude the very real possibility he mostly understands them, and that’s enough to form intent.

      Moreover, you are conflating two different issues here. The main problem I was looking at is the tendency of some teenagers — a very small minority, I would suggest — to delight in the suffering of others, and to seek to inflict pain on other people for shits and giggles. Sure, you can make the argument that they don’t fully understand the consequences to their victims, but that does not negate the fact that they have both a general understanding of what they are doing and a penchant for finding other people’s predicaments funny. As long as we are talking about brains here, let’s note that empathy — unlike abstract reasoning exemplified in planning and anticipating consequences — develops VERY early, generally between the ages of two and four, and refining by about the age of ten. So the tendency in a fourteen-year-old or a sixteen-year-old to hurt random people — again, for amusement — is extremely troubling. The response that I suggested isn’t about “vengeance” — it’s about preventing sociopaths from attaining opportunities to victimize huge numbers of people from a position of power and relative political and legal safety.

      An additional minor point to consider. From looking at your blog, I cautiously assume you are Dutch, so you are obviously in a better position than I to assess whether Dutch teenagers understand the impact of threatening an airline. Still, I have to doubt the suggestion in your comment that the Netherlands is an isolated backwater with rustically clueless teenagers. Given the country’s geographical location and its history, I don’t think that’s true, and the defense is particularly unconvincing in the Internet age. Oh, and despite having “American” in its name, AA is not a regional airline; it flies around the globe, including to the Netherlands. So yes, I would expect a Dutch teenagers to generally understand the impact of making a terrorist threat against a major carrier.

  2. themodernidiot on said:

    Amen! Well said. If it were my airline I would tweet back,”Hey you stupid little asshole, I’m gonna land my plane on top of your f$€&%@g house, and let you explain to your parents why their property value just tanked.”

  3. Community service, at the very least. And just take that damned phone away. There are bound to be consequences for misusing such a powerful technology, as James Clapper is realizing…

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