The word for the day is stochastic. Many times events or data points that mean nothing by themselves, but together mean a lot are stochastic. Let’s see how we can use this in a sentence: this weekend’s attack on the Planned Parenthood was stochastic in nature. When Carly Fiorina uses a fake video to accuse Planned Parenthood of harvesting fetus limbs for profit (get your baby parts here!) , not only is she lying, she is stochastically increasing the odds of an attack by a mentally unstable individual who might believe her. One could argue that in addition to acting in bad faith, she is, wittingly or not, engaging in a form of terrorism that is stochastic in nature, triggering unstable individuals across the country to act on her false accusations based on a fake film that she continues to flog despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Is there other evidence of stochastic triggering? Why yes there is; thank you for asking.
When Donald Trump encourages racism against immigrants by suggesting that Mexico does not send their ‘best’ people, but rather “… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”… etc., despite a complete lack of evidence, (and plenty of evidence to the contrary), we might suggest that not only is Donald Trump lying, he is participating in a form of stochastic terrorism by encouraging weak minded individuals to act on his faulty assumptions. When Trump tries to defend this statement by doubling down and saying a month later, “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”… it can certainly tip the balance. Two men in Boston admitted they ambushed and brutally beat a homeless Latino man because they were “inspired” by Trump. Of course, Trump didn’t leave it at that. He also said that Muslim-Americans should be tracked, undocumented workers should be rounded up, and that a Black Lives Matter protester at his rally “maybe deserved to be roughed up.” Last August, when a man arrested for beating a homeless Latin man told police, “Donald Trump was right — all these illegals need to be deported,” Trump didn’t condemn the violence. Instead he said “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.” Thus, enabling such behavior and even promoting it by designating as patriots those who are flat-out hooligans.
We can also think of stochastic in a reverse form, where multiple events can be attributed to a given phenomenon, but are not. Take climate change, for example. Each individual ‘storm of the century’ that has now become storm of the decade or even storm of the year is a discrete data point that, individually, does not directly impute man-made climate change but, in aggregate, these data points certainly do add up. That’s why the scientist converge with 99% plus certainty that man-made climate change is a real problem, even dabbling with the naming of our era the Anthropocene epoch—that is, our epoch begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s ecosystems. A bad snowstorm or drought does not equal man-made climate change. Years of record high temperatures and back-to-back droughts certainly do.
One last way we can use the term stochastic is in the very nature of the war on terror that we are purporting to battle but are actually inflaming. Again, it’s all about aggregate data. Like our homegrown disgruntled Planned Parenthood shooters and immigrant beaters, there will always be a small population of mentally unbalanced individuals for whom any agitation will be too much. The trick is to not grow their number. Thus policy makers and politicians would be advised to avoid inflammatory rhetoric; especially rhetoric which is patently false, like for example, accusing Planned Parenthood of harvesting body parts from fetuses, or accusing Mexico of sending us rapists.
We’ve already seen how this can lead to unnecessary violence. But the same principle holds true for military strategists and foreign affairs officers when they advocate using drones or our military when there can be significant civilian casualties. It’s a simple numbers game. Every accidental civilian death is someone’s brother or father or sister or mother. Every such death increases the likelihood that someone else will take up arms against our military presence or the ‘West’ in general. This is not rational, any more than attacking immigrants or Planned Parenthood workers is ‘rational’… but it is real. There is no better recruiting tool for ISIS than the death of innocent civilians by unmanned drones. There is no better propaganda to paint us as heartless monsters, and we do it to ourselves. Every mission gone wrong, every innocent civilian murdered by some robot in the sky only adds to the raging fury against us. But this is controllable, too, and that is the ultimate lesson for today. The term stochastic gives us a handle with which to understand – and lay responsibility for—everything from so called lone wolf attacks on our own soil to terrorism attacks abroad. It’s time we began paying attention to what those numbers are telling us.
~By Jack Johnson