How to Defuse a Bomb on a Spaceship

The world is a spaceship travelling around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, but in the spaceship the air is getting stuffy and the crew are growing in number. One contingent is youth who are ‘Not in Education Employment or Training’ (NEETs) and they feel hopeless and helpless as they are not allowed a fair share of the inflight refreshments and entertainment. Rupert Douglas-Bate, founder of Global MapAid, elaborates.

These youths know about what’s happening in the first-class compartments – the people at the front have developed smartphones and many youths at the back have bought these phones. The NEETs, whose biggest thirst is for knowledge, are entranced. They also buy televisions, and after soaking up how life looks on other parts of the ship, they feel increasingly envious and wonder why they shouldn’t have a proper slice of the cake.

Some groups, often small, radicalised, and consisting of older men, are willing to exploit this envy, offering these NEETs the chance of a piece of the cake through violent means. And they have plenty of scope to search and choose from: there are over 620 million NEETs from almost every country on the spaceship.

This is not the whole story, of course: there are other choices such as migration, or approaches from other groups who want to lead NEETs through more civilised means, but these are stories for another time.

But here’s the thing, any small, violently radicalised older group may promote football, a fundamentalist religion, their skin colour, their tribal code, a flag or an intellectual position. They don’t care what brand they promote, it’s the ring of power they want to wear, and violence is not only the way to achieve it, but also the means to keep it. NEETs are often their ticketed fan club, at least to start with.

There is also another problem, which is that in some countries where leadership refuses to listen, the use of violence may be perceived as the only option. The sound of an explosion, then a test of wills, is a powerful way of getting through to deaf ears. This is particularly true of dictatorial regimes, or those that do not possess the necessary checks and balances to listen and then bring in effective change. On spaceship Earth, one man’s terrorist is easily another man’s freedom fighter.

Three people at Birmingham University Business School in the UK have come up with some ideas on the subject. Bandyopadhyay, Bannerjee and Pinto have studied 42 police force areas across the country, with a special focus on knife crime. Their results show that: “Past knife crime rates and unemployment are the most important factors explaining knife crime.” They suggest that improving employment opportunities will positively support a reduction in knife crime. Furthermore, any policy that reduces knife crime (meaning enshrining employment solutions into law) will have a long-term positive impact.

Apprenticeship opportunity vs. unemployment in Birmingham UK

Meanwhile, in another part of the spaceship – the United States – a pair named Phillips and Land have been busy finding out there is a real link between unemployment and crime rate fluctuations. And then, in the wider international context, studies by the United Nations International Labour Organisation have concluded the two main determinants of social unrest are employment and economic growth.

Even Pope Francis has joined in the chorus, calling for something to be done.

He says: “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope, but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them anymore. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: Can you live crushed under the weight of the present ? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family ? Can you go on like this ? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”

What to do? The Dalai Lama presents us with a simple set of steps for any situation. First, identify the problem. Second, put it right. Third, make sure it cannot come back. And Fourth, meditate along the way.

If we examine the problem of youth violence and deconstruct it, perhaps it can be likened to a bomb, which is made up of three basic components. A detonator, an explosive and oxygen, all three of which are required to create an explosion. In this analogy, youth represents the explosive. High unemployment is the oxygen. And finally, a small group of violently radicalised older people is the detonator. Ask any (living) explosives expert how to disarm a bomb and they will explain that you must remove one of the three components. Is this repeatable on spaceship Earth?

History has offered various alternatives about how to deal with many unemployed, violently radicalised youth. To be explicit, most of the fighting is perpetrated by male youth. And bearing in mind the context of these youth, after a longish war or a troubled upbringing that may have included gangs , there are several things that we don’t know about that may be ‘switched on’. These include genes for fighting and probably the hidden long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This blog explores ways a humanitarian liberal democracy may usefully respond to the question: How do we defuse this ticking time bomb?

While some confident security apparatus may be inclined to remove the fuse by taking down small violently radicalised group of older people, there is another obvious question, that of scale. We have 620 million NEET youth, from which may easily grow older violently radicalised leaders. What then?

Micro Finance Client per 1,000 inhabitants,
per sub-city and per woreda, across the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

At MapAid, we have closely studied the solutions, such as training and business mentoring, that underpin how small businesses can be started. Indeed, many of us run our own small businesses. Having also worked in conflict zones, we sense that larger corporates are risk averse when it comes to investment in such places, while small businesses not only spread the risk of failure across multiple activities, but also put the job holder or small group of job holders, firmly in the position of accountability, especially when it comes to delivery of services or products to the local community.

Our team has other diverse skills that we wish to share, including mapping and web technology gained in places from Afghanistan, to Lambeth in London, to Cape Town in South Africa. We want to show on maps where the solutions to small businesses can be placed. so that policymakers and development agencies can actually see the big picture and put aid where it will have the chance of making the biggest difference.

In this way, by providing tools that influence, we can help to help build peace in beautiful but fragile places, using science and art to help defuse the bomb on our spaceship.

But we cannot do this in isolation. If we plan to win peace, we must collaborate effectively as partners, with others, and surely that’s the point.

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