1. What sorts of situations, or what times of life, lead people to feel uncertain, anxious, or insecure?
The paper speaks on the uncertainty-identity theory and how having ambiguity about who you are can lead to identifying with strict and sometimes dangerous groups. However, there are many times in our lives that we are met with great insecurity such as: losing a job, experiencing a death in the family, facing debt, facing large global and political events, going through a divorce, being diagnosed with a serious medical disease, or moving to another country. These events tend to cause great anxiety in our lives and can lead to us questioning ourselves and where we fit. As a person with Generalized Anxiety, this sort of uncertainty is a constant in my life and can completely understand the desire to be a part of larger group with very certain boundaries and rules. However, the answer never resides in others of course but instead in the way you process the insecurities.
2. Are the teen and emerging adult years a time of changing ideas, shifting identities, and vocational questions years of increased uncertainty, and therefore of potential interest in extreme groups? Do you think older adults in transition (e.g., retirees) might be targets of extreme groups? Why or why not?
Adolescence is a constant whirlwind of changes and that can make for very vulnerable teens who are trying to figure out their identities. Of course, this means that they will be susceptible to strongly opinionated groups and leaders that give very clear guidelines to otherwise confused teenagers. Instead of having to create an identity, go through the struggle of challenging ideals, and finding that life itself is will always be somewhat uncertain, they are willing to hand over all that critical thinking to those who seem more certain and can become easily persuaded by extremist groups potentially. Especially because adolescents don’t have the experience yet to discern opportunistic zealots from trusted sources, teens will have no protection from groups that prey upon the lost.
I also do believe that retirees can become targets of extremist groups due to their own inexperience with modern tactics as well as their insecurity and uncertainty of the future. Retirees are commonly targeted by scammers in order to get them to part with their money through shady schemes like phishing by phone or email. Many aren’t educated in the ways of misinformation in the internet age and end up becoming indoctrinated easily through lies and the promise of a clear identity as their old ones have long faded. They are physically and sometimes even mentally defenseless, making older people a prime target for extremist beliefs and groups looking to build membership.
3. What sorts of extreme groups (or cults) might appeal to people in times of personal uncertainty?
Some basic examples of these groups can be ones like alt-right, KKK, nazis, street gangs, white supremacists, Scientologists, Happy Science members, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the people who follow Gwenyth Paltro’s new group. Usually though, I feel they will choose a political identity because it is the most easily accessible identity and also widely accepted as it is very common and even encouraged to be engaged politically. However, there are certain levels of political identity that surpasses the usual definition and falls into more extremist territory obviously. Things like bombings, anthrax, or other physical endangerment based upon political beliefs is when a political identity and identification with a group encouraging such things can become extremist. I also often see small groups online that form around very strict rules and tend to be very exclusive that prey upon very specific traumas held within uncertain people. For example, “incels” are a group of involuntary celibates that are very exclusive as they only accept men who have never been sexually involved before and beli…
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