Norway’s McVeigh Murders

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening on Twitter and news sites, following the information that came out of Norway about the terrorist attacks. At current count, a madman has murdered 87 people, most of them teens he mowed down with an automatic rifle, and injured a similar number.

The killer targeted the Norwegian Labour party and is an Islamophobic opponent of a multi-cultural society. I am a Labour voter and a member of a multi-cultural family. People of 70 nationalities live in my neighbourhood. The ancestry of my friends is all over the map. I always keep chicken meatballs in my freezer because several friends of my daughter have Muslim parents.

When it comes to violence like this, the question of sanity becomes moot. The act is all the diagnose we need. Most people who share the 22 July killer’s opinions never harm anyone, because they are not insane. All we can really do is try to keep guns and explosives out of the hands of madmen. It’s akin to installing a lightning rod on your roof.

All those bereaved people. All those traumatised hundreds of Labour Youth campers. So sad and pointless.

Comments

  1. #1 nick williams
    July 23, 2011

    I’m going back to following how the corrupt Murdoch press is getting a hammering. The facts of these Norway killings are now known. Very, very sad that these teenagers’ will remember this summer in this way.

    Nick

  2. #2 judith weingarten
    July 23, 2011

    Insanity has a way of being attractive to extremists. We can’t do much about that but the police can find out how he got his hands on those weapons and explosives — and maybe concentrate a bit more on right-wing nut jobs. My heartfelt condolences to all of you in the north.

  3. #3 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    It’s the other way around. Extremism is attractive to the mentally ill.

  4. #4 ZielWasserVermeider
    July 23, 2011

    Killer Profil:

    right-wing and a Christian fundamentalist + gunowner…
    hmmm… a pretty good description of a teap arty member

    Hallo from Europe
    Oli

  5. #5 Lassi Hippeläinen
    July 23, 2011

    “try to keep guns and explosives out of the hands of madmen”

    Doesn’t work. Just like McVeigh, this guy seems to have used nitrogen-loaded fertiliser to make a bomb.

    I haven’t seen yet* what Faux news or other religious right wing media has made out of this, but I expect they will put the blame on islamists – because the murderer was afraid of islamists.


    * I try to avoid them

  6. #6 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    There is nothing yet to suggest that the killer has any mental health problems. Most murderers are sane. Even though mental illness, personality disorder or brain damage is common among serial killers, it’s not universal even there.

    You’re not trying to understand what’s happened, just label him as ‘mad’ and he’s no longer a real human, no longer a problem.

    How do you diagnose a ‘madman’ anyway? What symptoms are you using to decide who has their rights curtailed? Or are you just applying this to everyone with a mental illness?

    Are you aware that people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of crime than they are to be the perpetrators? Are you happy that stigmatizing language and assumptions like yours (mad people kill people) is one of the reasons that people with mental illness are targeted?

    How many of the survivors of this are going to be traumatised? And how many of them are not going to seek help because of the stigma of being a ‘madman’? How many of them are going to avoid seeking help they need because they don’t want to be a ‘madman’ like the guy who tried to kill them?

    As a long-time reader of your blog I expected better from you.

  7. #7 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    There is nothing yet to suggest that the killer has any mental health problems. … How do you diagnose a ‘madman’ anyway?

    The wish and ability kill almost 100 people in cold blood is, as I said, diagnose enough.

    I am well aware of the fact that most mentally ill people are not violent. What I am arguing is, on the contrary, that violent behavior should be seen as a symptom of mental illness and be treated as such in court. It would be useless sophistry to treat the Utøya killer as a responsible sane man who has to answer for his actions, like, say, Bernie Madoff. People who commit deeds like these are simply a natural danger and must be kept away from weapons. I am not interested in the question of responsibility.

    And I am not suggesting that mentally ill people should be locked up pre-emptively.

  8. #8 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    Why is the ability to kill a sign of mental illness? We ask this of our armed forces all the time. By your definition, anyone who flies a bombing raid, launches a missile, operates heavy artillery (all of which constitute “the wish and ability to kill almost 100 people in cold blood”) is mentally ill.

    I wonder how you’d take such unqualified statements on your subject. Your argument boils down to “all forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology is wrong; all research on the socialisation to killing is wrong”.

  9. #9 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    By your definition, anyone who flies a bombing raid, launches a missile, operates heavy artillery (all of which constitute “the wish and ability to kill almost 100 people in cold blood”) is mentally ill.

    Yes, I am a pacifist. I am not very fond of your (or anybody else’s) armed forces.

    Your argument boils down to “all forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology is wrong

    No, I just have an unusual approach to the justice system. I think that the notion of justice as society’s revenge upon criminals should go out the window. Criminal justice should exclusively aim to prevent crime and repeat offences using evidence-based methods. Only the violently insane should for instance be jailed.

  10. #10 NJ
    July 23, 2011

    Marge @ 8:

    Why is the ability to kill a sign of mental illness?

    OK, how about ‘the wish to shoot and kill 80 young people you have never met’? Is that a sufficiently specific empirical statement to qualify as an de facto diagnosis of dangerous mental illness?

  11. #11 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    But the study of socialisation of killing, and goodly parts of forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology are not about the mores of a particular criminal justice system. Your assertion that killing=mad is independent of any criminal justice model (it could equally be used in both a rehabilitative or retributive model). You’re still arguing that their research (or diagnosis) is wrong, because it contradicts your assertion.

    I still think that you wouldn’t take someone talking this amount of rubbish about archaeology, so I’m not sure why we should put up with you talking this amount of rubbish about mental health.

    Because uninformed pontificating is easy. Real life is difficult. And real life is especially difficult for people with mental illness who have to deal with stigma from people who throw around the word ‘mad’ without thinking about it.

    Saying he’s mad makes it easy. You don’t have to think about it any more. You don’t have to address the social and individual factors that led up to yesterday. He’s just mad. Not even bothering to say how he’s mad, beyond that he’s a murderer – do you think he has delusions? Mania? Depressive though processes? Hallucinations? Obsessions? No. Just that he’s mad, that’s that, no more questions needed. And if this happens again, then they’re mad too.

  12. #12 Chrisj
    July 23, 2011

    I’m definitely with NJ and Martin on this. You can argue that we all have “the ability to kill”, at least on a purely physical level. But anyone who actively wants to kill large numbers of people simply for being different to them? That’s definitely a sign of something badly wrong in their brain.

    I’m also with Martin that we’d be much better off treating many types of crime as essentially public health problems. Revenge doesn’t help anyone in the long term, and it’s better to rehabilitate the offender – actually fix the problem if you possibly can. If you can’t, then you quarantine them to prevent them causing harm to others.

  13. #13 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    @NJ – again, no it’s not. There may be rational reasons for killing. Not one’s that we’d agree with, and they will be based on false premises, but there could be a ‘rational’ argument. For example, this sort of thinking is common among people in the US who kill abortion providers – in their mind they are preventing large numbers of other murders by committing one murder. They have a completely rational reason for doing what they do; it’s based on a false premise, but they are following the same logic, the same thought patterns that everyone thinks of as ‘sane’.

    I can’t speculate on whether this is the case here, but he could well have known exactly what he was doing and had a very rational reason to do it.

    There seems to be in this discussion the use of ‘mad’ to signify ‘I can’t work out why this would happen, so I’ll label it as mad so I don’t have to deal with it’.

  14. #14 NJ
    July 23, 2011

    I think I see the problem here.

    Marge is conflating the statement ‘We can safely say that a man who kills 90+ people in two separate attacks is dangerously insane’ with claims that ‘All people with mental illness are dangerous’, ‘Once someone is declared dangerously insane there is no reason to investigate the causes of their illness’, and ‘Studies of mental illness or of the causes of crime are of no value’.

    Suggestion for Marge: Read only what is written on the page and do not infer things that are not on the page.

    No matter what the voices in your head are telling you.

  15. #15 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    You’re still arguing that their research (or diagnosis) is wrong, because it contradicts your assertion.

    No, I am advocating a revised, more pragmatic definition of “madman”.

    You don’t have to address the social and individual factors that led up to yesterday. He’s just mad. Not even bothering to say how he’s mad, beyond that he’s a murderer

    Very true. I am not interested in this man’s individual case history or health prospects. I have no suggestions about how he might be cured. I am interested in pragmatic ways to keep crime, such as mass murder, from happening.

    Between the lines of your comments, I seem to detect an offended specialist in (criminal?) psychology. We all have fields in science that we are more or less interested in. I’m afraid yours is just not one of my personal favourites.

  16. #16 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    “But anyone who actively wants to kill large numbers of people simply for being different to them? That’s definitely a sign of something badly wrong in their brain.”

    Again, there seems to be an ignorance of the research on socialisation of evil; it’s frighteningly easy to get nice, sane people, to do fairly horrific things. The observation of any experiments in this field is that the number of people who can really resist is very, very small. There’s nothing wrong with their brains – it’s likely to do with how we work as social animals.

    I don’t know what went on here. But the idea that murderers (or any other sort of violent people) are a species apart is completely untrue.

  17. #17 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    “I’m afraid yours is just not one of my personal favourites.”

    This is fine. I’m not asking you to be interested. I’m asking you to stop talking rubbish about it; to stop using stigmatising language; to think about the effect that ableist language (of all types) makes; to stop making evidence-less assumptions.

  18. #18 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    @NJ – One of the reasons I first commented on this post was the use of ableist language. I suggest that as a start, you could read the checklist of neurotypical privilege:
    http://aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/2009/08/checklist-of-neurotypical-privilege-new.html

  19. #19 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    There seems to be in this discussion the use of ‘mad’ to signify ‘I can’t work out why this would happen, so I’ll label it as mad so I don’t have to deal with it’.

    I’m afraid we do have to deal with mass murderers. There was a failed terrorist bombing attempt 10 km from my house last December.

    I have never heard the word “ableist” before. I find it odd that people who suffer from autism-spectrum disorders should feel singled out when I call the most deadly lone-gunman murderer in history a madman.

  20. #20 NJ
    July 23, 2011

    Marge @ 18:

    neurotypical privilege

    Congratulations, Martin! A privilege argument has just been raised – now you, too, can join the ranks of ERV, Pharyngula & Greg Laden with Elevatorgate!

    Or not…

  21. #21 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    You’re right. As a white straight sane male Western PhD I should know better than to voice opinions about anybody outside my demographic.

  22. #22 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    “I find it odd that people who suffer from autism-spectrum disorders should feel singled out when I call the most deadly lone-gunman murderer in history a madman.”

    The list is meant to be more general, and I included it as response to NJ’s ableist comment. Sorry I didn’t make that more clear in my comment.

    Even so, note that “7. I am not considered more dangerous and more likely to commit a crime because of my neurology.” This knee-jerk association of madness and violence is what is being talked about. I realise that you are making the association in the direction of murder to madness; but because of the association going the other way there is a significant sensitivity about this sort of usage.

    I come back to: you know nothing about this man. You know nothing about mental illness. You know nothing about criminal psychiatry/psychology etc. Yet you feel qualified to diagnose him, redefine mental illness to your own paradigm, reject existing expertise in this area – which I think makes you to psychiatry/psychology what Erich von Däniken is to archaeology.

  23. #23 Richard Simons
    July 23, 2011

    I come back to: you know nothing about this man.

    Wrong. We know that he killed over 90 people innocent people. Do you really believe this to be the action of a sane person? What conceivable justification could there be?

  24. #24 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    “What conceivable justification could there be?”

    Simple: as in the comment above about the abortion killers, that he thinks he is preventing something worse happening by committing the murders. The justification will be based on a false premise, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rational. His actions during the killings were supremely rational – for example, his method of getting on to the island.

    I don’t argue that this is necessarily the case, merely that without further information no conclusion can be reached.

  25. #25 NJ
    July 23, 2011

    Marge @ 22:

    I included it as response to NJ’s ableist comment

    [Citation required] Be as specific as possible (quoting helps), and describe exactly how any comment or comments of mine qualify as ableist.

    Be aware that I am using the term ableist arguendo and am not necessarily accepting the concept as valid.

  26. #26 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    Marge, I hope that my notoriety as a pseudoscientific writer on criminal psychology will make me even half as rich as Erich von Däniken.

  27. #27 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    @NJ, “No matter what the voices in your head are telling you.”

    Derogatory towards people with schizophrenia; ableist.

    If you don’t accept the concept of ableism, you are saying that there is no discrimination against people with disabilities in society. Please feel free to take time to read just a couple of reports on the issue just of violence against people with disabilities (both are links to pdfs):
    http://www.unicef.org/videoaudio/PDFs/UNICEF_Violence_Against_Disabled_Children_Report_Distributed_Version.pdf
    http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/research/disabled_people_s_experiences_of_targeted_violence_and_hostility.pdf
    (These are just a sample)

    Incidentally, since you were so offhand about ‘privilege’ do you think that racism and sexism also don’t exist?

  28. #28 Marge
    July 23, 2011

    @Martin – have you tried the ‘aliens make you mad’ angle though? :D

  29. #29 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    I can’t talk about that. I don’t want them to probe me again.

  30. #30 nick williams
    July 23, 2011

    By your definition, anyone who flies a bombing raid, launches a missile, operates heavy artillery (all of which constitute “the wish and ability to kill almost 100 people in cold blood”) is mentally ill.

    If I ever found myself flying a bombing raid, launching a missile or firing a cannon , I’d ask myself some pretty searching questions about my own sanity. I’ve often thought a person needs to be either desperate or mad to join the army.

  31. #31 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    Talking to Americans who hope their soldier relatives won’t get sent into combat, I have asked a little gingerly if it comes as a surprise to them that US soldiers might be expected to fight. They have explained to me that many US soldiers are poor (often black) people who join the army because of the pay check and the free education. Many apparently see it as a gamble where, if they’re lucky, they may get discharged with useful training but without having to risk their lives or kill anyone.

  32. #32 Pascvaks
    July 23, 2011

    “The facts of these Norway killings are now known.” –Hummmm, I doubt it.

    “Insanity has a way of being attractive to extremists. We can’t do much about that but the police can find out how he got his hands on those weapons and explosives — and maybe concentrate a bit more on right-wing nut jobs…” — We can learn to recognize danger, humans used to do it every day; Right-Wing nut jobs, that’s just 33 1/3%, what about the rest?

    “..right-wing and a Christian fundamentalist + gunowner…
    hmmm… a pretty good description of a teaparty member” — Hummm… you too are undercounting the rats in the alley.

    “I haven’t seen yet what Faux news or other religious right wing media has made out of this, but I expect they will put the blame on islamists – because the murderer was afraid of islamists.” — They’re only trying to make a living, sell a few newspapers or some TV airtime, they have families too, and bills to pay; after all if you don’t feed The People the kind of rations they like everyday, they tend to get mad. I hear that’s even true on the Left and in the Center of the World too.

    There seems to be a lot of “My side’s better than your side”. Seems this killer (and his poor victims) is being used. Why is that?

  33. #33 Nomen Nescio
    July 23, 2011

    The wish and ability kill almost 100 people in cold blood is, as I said, diagnose enough.

    the ability to kill is not indicative of anything. any competent, reasonably healthy adult has that. the desire to kill people who posed no threat to him, and the ability to do it in anything you could call “cold blood” — that, i agree, does tell us he wasn’t what the rest of us might call sane.

    and from what i’ve seen of the USA, i’d say your analysis of what sorts of people join the armed forces here and why is relatively accurate. there are other subgroups too of course, and other reasons some folks use — jingoistic hyperpatriotism, for instance — but a lot of recruitment effort is spent in quite poor communities, with “free education” as a major selling point.

  34. #34 Birger Johansson
    July 23, 2011

    Norway’s PM speaks after the attacks http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-23/norway-pm-condemns-attacks/2807190

    Re. sanity and insanity: All that is required to kill large numbers of defenceless civilians is the ability to compartmentalise the thinking processes, to dehumanise the victims as “other”. There were probably plenty of camp guards in the former Yugoslavia who killed far more than 91 victims. And if subjected to psychological tests, most of the killers will turn out to be perfectly sane.
    — — — — — — —

    “free education” as a major selling point…Most of those recruits will not see the education promised to them. *Some* education, yes, but most will get only a fraction of what they thought they would be entitled to. Yet another way the U S soldiers are getting screwed. See “Agent Orange”, “Gulf War Syndrome”, conscripts exposed to radiation at Nevada nuclear tests etc.

  35. #35 Acajudi
    July 23, 2011

    May God give you peeace in these horrible times. Let go and let God.

  36. #36 Martin R
    July 23, 2011

    My advice would be more like RUN!!!

  37. #37 Nomen Nescio
    July 23, 2011

    my advice would depend too much on circumstances. ideally you should run away, if that’s realistically possible and wouldn’t leave anybody else at any more risk than they otherwise might be. sometimes, though, fighting back is all you can do.

    the victim count at the youth camp is horrifying, in so many ways. in theory, eighty people — even if teenagers — rushing and tackling one gunman probably could have disarmed him. yes, they would have been at deadly risk, and some of them may very well have died in the attempt; but they were at deadly risk as it was. we’ll never know if fewer or more of them would have been killed that way than what actually happened.

    tackling an active shooter while unarmed doesn’t come naturally to most people, though. one person trying that alone would not have stood much chance. that sort of coordination and initiative wouldn’t likely be found outside of a military barracks, if there.

    (i guess i’m making some possibly very bad assumptions about the age ranges at that youth camp, here. but if this shooter was deranged enough to open fire at children not yet in their teens… that would pretty much seal the “madman” diagnosis, for me, beyond all dispute.)

  38. #38 Jakob Ø
    July 23, 2011

    There’s no question that it’s not normal for a person to be able to kill another, let alone 85 by gunshot at close range. In WW II only 15-20% of the individual riflemen would shot at the enemy. Then the US military realised they had to do something about that and in Vietnam the percentage was over 90 (mentioned shortly at http://www.killology.com/print/print_teachkid.htm ). Yet most soldiers are sane, function well in society and would never kill when not at war. It’s a bit more complicated than sane/insane.

    To me the most important point is, that – in most cases – if one of your neighbours was a killer/rapist/pedophile you wouldn’t be able to tell which one. And that’s a bit scary.

    In the current case the most scary part might be that it seems to be a PR stunt from the killer to promote his manifesto. As the Curios George I am, I downloaded his manifest where he in the preface writes:

    “I’ve spent a total of 9 years of my life working on this project. The first five years were spent studying and creating a financial base, and the last three years was spent working full time with research, compilation and writing. Creating this compendium has personally cost me a total of 317 000 Euros (130 000 Euros spent from my own pocket and 187 500 Euros for loss of income during three years). All that, however, is barely noticeable compared to the sacrifices made in relation to the distribution of this book, the actual marketing operation;)”

    I could be wrong but “the actual marketing operation” (with the creepy smiley) can hardly be anything but the bomb and the shooting. The sad thing is that it might work as way more people will read his 1,500 page manifesto now than if he just had been a Norwegian nut with some crazy ideas…

  39. #39 bozo
    July 23, 2011

    Hmmmm so armed, right-wing and Christian reminds you of a Tea Party member?…

    Unarmed, peaceful, law-abiding – waiting for the police and government and law to protect them reminds me of 6 Million men, women, and children who died largely without even thinking of defending or arming themselves during WWII at the hands of the Nazis.

  40. #40 Martin R
    July 24, 2011

    Jews in Nazi Germany did not have much faith in police, government and law. Many who could afford it fled. Others couldn’t quite imagine how bad it could get. And the Jews of other countries occupied after the outbreak of the war weren’t allowed to leave.

    Not every armed right-wing Christian in the US is a Tea Party member. But pretty much every Tea Party member seems to be an armed right-wing Christian.

  41. #41 Birger Johansson
    July 24, 2011

    The assholes at CNN mention the killer as a former member of the (Fremskrittspartiet) Progress Party (a far-right populist party) but describe it as analogous to the Democrats (as in “progressives”). So now the Mericans think he is some kind of liberal…

  42. #42 Martin R
    July 24, 2011

    Hehe, remember that Reinfeldt endorsed Obama…

  43. #43 Thomas Ivarsson
    July 24, 2011

    I think that this is an attack on democracy and that all of us that share these values are totally traumatized.

  44. #44 SM
    July 24, 2011

    This is a terrible tragedy for the people who were near (or know people who were near) the attacks. Unfortunately there isn’t much anyone can do about crazy people running amok, other than watching for warning signs and containing the damage when they strike. There are too many possible targets.

    I agree the folk criminology and tradition behind most punishment systems don’t make much sense. Some people need to be kept away from the rest of society for everyone else’s safety; for most others years in prison don’t seem to do much good.

    I have no words vile enough for those foreigners who use this disaster to push some petty partisan position, or criticize the victim for not acting the way their ideology tells them that the victims should have acted.

  45. #45 Barn Owl
    July 24, 2011

    @ Martin R- IMO the parallels between Breivik’s interests and the Tea Party are accurate: conservative Christian, right-wing, gun-loving, etc. Breivik describes himself as a Protestant – is it known with which church in Norway he’s associated? I ask because some of the Lutheran synods in the US are pretty extreme, and have nutty, paranoid beliefs (beyond the standard, haha!). Michelle Bachmann belonged to one such, but disavowed it and joined a more restrained congregation, for obvious political reasons.

    BBC News are saying that Breivik was a member of a Swedish Neo-Nazi internet forum, one of those monitored by the Expo Foundation (which most of us Americans know about only because of the connection with Stieg Larsson). Has there been a resurgence of Neo-Nazi activity in both Sweden and Norway recently? I know the friend I visited in Stockholm in 2005 was somewhat concerned, and at one point we avoided walking through a park because he’d spotted a couple of suspicious-looking dudes, but I thought the activity peaked in the late 1990s, and had been on the decline.

  46. #46 Jakob Ø
    July 24, 2011

    @Barn, from what is known he was likely associeted with the lutheran state church in Norway (let us just call it that even though the relationship between state and church is a bit complicated) as he mentions in the manifesto that he at the age of 15 chose to be baptised and confirmed in it.

    Not that he seems to have been particular active or for that matter a believer as such from what his mainfesto contains. I haven’t read all 1500 pages but there seems to be few Biblical references, no mention of him going to church and the one time he mentions praying he notes that he hasn’t done that for a long time. He doesn’t talk much about christianity, if at all, but a lot about christendom.

    He sums it up: “Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe.” In line with that he want a unified European church under a pope who wants to fight islam.

    As far as I can see he’s only concerned with the church because it can be used as a tool to fight muslims.

    Right now very little is known though since we mainly have his manifesto and postings on document.no as sources. I should hope some Norwegian journalists are working hard to sort out what is fact and what is fiction in his manifesto. Did he really make his first million at age 24 and 4 millions at the age of 25-26? If so, how? And why then was he allmost out of money by the end of July this year when he says he “only” spent 317,000 Euros over the last nine years? Who are the eight persons he claims to have meet with in London in April 2002 to found the PCCTS organisation he claims to represent?

    Last question should interest several European intelligence agencys btw…

  47. #47 NJ
    July 25, 2011

    NJ @ 25:

    Be as specific as possible (quoting helps), and describe exactly how any comment or comments of mine qualify as ableist.

    Marge @ 27:

    Derogatory towards people with schizophrenia; ableist.

    No one mentioned ‘schizophrenia’ or other people; the phrase was commentary on your personal cognitive failings, specifically your repeated conflation of multiple concepts as I had noted @ 14. The rest of your comment is further proof of that. My favorite:

    Incidentally, since you were so offhand about ‘privilege’ do you think that racism and sexism also don’t exist?

    Good-bye goalposts! We hardly knew you!

    My original point stands: The wish to shoot and kill 80+ young people you have never met is a sufficiently specific empirical statement to qualify as a de facto diagnosis of dangerous mental illness. Your personal need to convert this from a particular case to a general discussion so that you can flog a cause you feel strongly about is just that.

    All in your head.

  48. #48 Steven Blowney
    July 25, 2011

    First, my sympathies to people of Norway.

    Second, it’s not a matter if he’s sane or insane; what’s important is to understanding specifically what drove him to plants bombs and kill people. To simply say he was a racist madman isn’t enough: what made him a racist madman? And what drove him to go on a killing spree? We don’t know the answer to those questions–yet.

  49. #49 Birger Johansson
    July 25, 2011

    “Has there been a resurgence of Neo-Nazi activity in both Sweden and Norway recently? ”

    For obvious historical reasons Nazis are much more scarce in Norway than in Sweden.
    The militant Nazis in Sweden have mostly evaporated after their leaders ended up in jail during the 1990s, instead the sympathisers have often blended into the more “mainstream” xenophobes.
    The latter are a motley crew that span a broad spectrum, the current Swedish jingoist party SD has managed to get a degree of respectability by not nominating former Nazis as members of parliament, but they are still a bunch of tossers.
    “Pure” fascists try to get around the ban of Nazi symbols by constantly changing symbols as they get outlawed, and by using code phrases like “88″, like they do in other European countries. I have not seen any in my home town, but they might be up-front in bigger cities.

  50. #50 Birger Johansson
    July 25, 2011

    Glenn Beck comments on the shootings and proves he is a fucking idiot:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/glenn_beck_is_still_on_the_air.php

  51. #51 Åsa Leander
    July 25, 2011

    I fully agree.
    Your Mom

  52. #52 dogteam
    July 25, 2011

    I’m afraid that I have to reluctantly agree with the lady who was frothing at the mouth earlier.
    As much as I would like to believe that killing innocents is an act of “madness”, the history of Homo sapiens would indicate otherwise. We only need a “reason”, (good or bad), to justify our actions. All time favorites include religion, politics, skin colour, language…well, um…basically anything about other people that we don’t like. (See “Genocide” and “Crusades”, Wikipedia)

    One might make the argument that we, as a species, are all mentally unbalanced… and I really couldn’t think of a way to refute it.

    The tragedy here, after the loss of so many young lives, is that Norway does not have the death penalty. This means that they get to feed and house this waste of skin for 21 years at most, after which he will live comfortably on the residuals from his book and movie deals.

    My willingness to see the death of another human being doesn’t make me a mentally unbalanced…although obviously not everyone agrees with my viewpoint.

  53. #53 Martin R
    July 25, 2011

    The only reason that you’re hostile to this guy is that he killed people. Seems inconsistent to take that as an excuse to, you know, kill him. I suggest you stay on the moral higher ground where you are.

  54. #54 JonW
    July 26, 2011

    By labelling people who commit horrific acts as mad what information do you wish to impart?
    You have said, regardless of whether a person meets the current medical criteria for having a mental illness the fact that they have committed an horrific act should make them as mad.
    If we are to abandon the current medical definitions of mental illness in favour of a morality based definition of “mad” how does this new label of “mad” give any information other than the fact that someone who has had the label applied to them has committed an horrific act? It certainly offers no explanation, no reason and no indication of what we may do to prevent such acts in the future.

    Calling someone mad based on the fact that they have committed an atrocity appears on the surface to offer an explanation, but in fact it does nothing of the sort. It does however play into a number of popular myths about mental illness.

    Why bother with the label “mad” when you can just say that this person’s acts were horrific, and then look at what caused them.
    Why pick the word “mad” to label them with, why not “evil”? In this context it carries exactly the same information without (further) stigmatising those people who do have mental health problems.

  55. #55 Martin R
    July 26, 2011

    I wasn’t talking about psychology. I was talking about judicial practice. This murderer needs to be locked up indefinitely for safety’s sake. I find it ridiculous to ponder if such a patently insane person should be held “responsible” for his acts or not.

    Evil is just a value judgement. Mental illness, though, is a medical fact.

  56. #56 crhymethinc
    July 26, 2011

    This monster is not insane. He is a hate- and fear-filled right-winger who can’t stand the fact that the majority of people in his country do NOT agree with him. He understands that as long as a majority of people in Norway are left-leaning, he and his ilk will never get what they want. So like all right-wing extremists, he simply starts killing. This is the modus operandi of the right. The ONLY way to keep more of this sort of thing from happening is to eliminate every right-wing extremist NOW before they have a chance to act.

    The muslim terrorists are right-wing extremists.
    Adolf Hitler was a right-wing extremist.
    Right-wing extremists will NEVER get along in a truly free and democratic society because they do not support freedom and equality.

  57. #57 Barn Owl
    July 26, 2011

    @ Jakob – I think that the distinction between christianity and christendom you mentioned is key, at least in the context of comparing European and US right-wingers. Here of course there is no direct legacy of Crusades or medieval Christianity (though there are groups calling themselves Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, etc.), but rather there are many biblical literalists, evangelical Christians/dispensationalists, and dominionists. Their behaviors and agendas are grounded in their interpretation of the Bible, rather than a return to some sort of historical status, which appears to be the case (in a bizarre horrific sense) with Breivik.

    @ Birger – Oh, yes, I remember reading Steinbeck’s propaganda novel, The Moon is Down, years ago, and the plot is a thinly-veiled representation of Norway occupied by Nazi Germany. So blatant Nazi symbolism would seem counterproductive there, if your goal was to have an organization that attracted sympathetic recruits to your cause. Cultural memory can be very long indeed.

  58. #58 dogteam
    July 26, 2011

    @martin 53:
    Actually I’m not hostile to him at all. I don’t know the man.
    But the most effective way (IMHO) to make sure that he doesn’t repeat this performance is to relieve him of what he so calmly took from others. Not punishment, not revenge…just insurance.

  59. #59 Martin R
    July 27, 2011

    Wanting to kill the guy doesn’t count as hostile?

  60. #60 Gumph
    July 27, 2011

    “Mental illness, though, is a medical fact.”

    And yet you’re happy to casually refute all the medical research in the field? Make up your mind: either the science is right, or you are. I know which one I’m with.

  61. #61 NJ
    July 27, 2011

    Gumph@ 60:

    I know which one I’m with.

    Run, Forrest, run!

  62. #62 Birger Johansson
    July 28, 2011

    To those who think Norwegian law is too lenient.

    I am not an expert on Norwegian law, but I am told that the law allows the prosecutor to charge Breivik with crime against humanity (in addition to his other crimes), in which case the court can order him to be kept in “storage” after the time-limited part of his sentence has expired, provided they judge him tio be a danger to society. They can therefore extend his sentence by up to five more years at a time.

    He will not leave prison until he is due for a geriatric clinic. No way.

    A point I have made at many other blogs is that the death sentence partly erodes the visceral taboo against killing.
    Most drugged-up fiends or drunken brawlers stop short of beating people to death because a small part of their brains still knows that killing is wrong.
    Mess with this, and the murder rate will rise sharply.
    With few exceptions, countries that have abolished the death sentence have a low murder rate. Even a mass murderer like Breivik cannot alter the statistics significantly.

  63. #63 Prup (aka Jim Benton)
    July 28, 2011

    I popped up here mostly wanting to see Martin (&co, of course) responding to the Breivik horror. Unfortunately the thread seems to have been diverted into a discussion of ‘ableism.’ (I’ve always thought this pretty much answered that question.)

    So let me just ask the non-American part of the commentators if they’ve experienced much of two attitudes that are poisoning our coverage here. The first is prominent commentators arguing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, that even though he called himself a Christian, he couldn’t possibly be one because no Christian would have become a mass murderer. (One commentator even argued that he was, in fact, a ‘jihadist’ and that he ‘must’ have been influenced by Islam.) Of course part of this came from commentators who were trying to cover-up the fact they immediately assumed the killer ‘had to be’ Muslim.

    Worse, though, are the ones — most prominently, or at least ‘first off the mark’ was, unsurprisingly, Pat Buchanan — who argue that while the action was horrible, and that the killer was ‘obviously insane’ — and they use the term to mean ‘don’t look at all of us who he quoted in his manifesto, he wasn’t political,just crazy’ — he was, in fact, right about his fears about ‘Cultural Marzism’ and the rest, just chose the wrong way of attacking it.

    You expect it from Buchanan, but it seems to be spreading, and that’s really scary.

  64. #64 dogteam
    July 29, 2011

    Even a mass murderer like Breivik cannot alter the statistics significantly.

    That’s, um….comforting.

  65. #65 Mattias
    July 29, 2011

    I have met quite a few people advocating that deeds such as that of Breivik should amount to madness by definition. It now strikes me that all these are (or have been at the point of their voicing the opinion) secular humanists, at least half of them convinced exponents of what is sometimes called “naive Aufklärung”, claiming (in opposition to the abrahamitic religions and the mainstream of platonic philosophy) that human nature is essentially good. It now strikes me that such a stance on “madness through evil deeds” is a neccessity in order to maintain this fundamental tenet of enlightenment when confronted with gross moral misconduct (trying to avoid the S-word to fit in here :-)) Most abrahamitic confessors would on the other hand (if they were honest) have to admit that they, just as much as anyone, were capable of such deeds. This is why statements such as the feminist position that “all men are potential rapists” is entirely uncontroversial for people like myself. It would probably disappoint Steinem, Dworkin et al greatly to end up in the same place as traditional Roman-Catholic and orthodox Lutheran theology and philosophy, but that is just one of the quirks of the modern world.

  66. #66 Birger Johansson
    July 29, 2011

    The first of the victims of the massacre at Utöya was buried today. The 18-year-old girl Bano Rashid who came to Norway from Kurdistan 1996 was buried at Nesodden south of Olslo after a dual christian and muslim funeral ceremony, at which the Norwegian foreign minister held a speech.
    The dual ceremony is a demonstration that Breivik’s ideas have failed, and that people of different religions can get along.

  67. #67 Martin R
    July 30, 2011

    Mattias, we need to explain why this particular extreme-right Islamophobe committed mass murder when most do not. Metaphysics are by definition non-physical, and so “evil” is no explanation in a physical world. Ergo, something’s atypical in the guy’s head. He’s nuts.

  68. #68 Mattias
    July 30, 2011

    Does not what we perceive as evil belong to the physical world? I have always taken you for a reductive materialist, is that not so? Do you think it would be possible to establish the mentioned atypicality in Breivik’s head _before_ he commited his crimes, and in what way what was he different from the non-violent extremists at that point? If he was not, I think the word ‘explanation’ is out of place here.

    I seem to recall, incidentally, that the psychiatric examination of Arklöf after the murders in Malexander indicated no empathetic disfunction, but rather one of cognitive processes, making it extremely difficult for him to grasp the consequences of his action (I may be wrong I just remember this being discussed in the trials). Basically the psychiatric reviewers implied that he was not mad but stupid (although they put it much more elegantly than that).

  69. #69 Martin R
    July 30, 2011

    Does not what we perceive as evil belong to the physical world?

    What I meant was that “evil” is a value judgement, a statement of opinion, not a physical force or object.

    AFAIK, psychiatry is not good enough yet to be able to predict this sort of thing. Also, it would be crazy expensive to screen everyone. All I can recommend is tight gun laws.

    The important thing for me about this is that I think the courts should get rid of the notion of psychological responsibility, where they spend a lot of time trying to figure out if a given perpetrator can be assigned blame. I don’t care about blame, culpability, punishment or revenge. I care about preventing crime and repeat crime.

  70. #70 Katharine
    July 31, 2011

    As much as I would like to believe that killing innocents is an act of “madness”, the history of Homo sapiens would indicate otherwise. We only need a “reason”, (good or bad), to justify our actions. All time favorites include religion, politics, skin colour, language…well, um…basically anything about other people that we don’t like. (See “Genocide” and “Crusades”, Wikipedia)

    Then wherein lies the difference between these gibbering humans who would use any excuse – religion, politics, skin color, language – to kill, and people similar to those of us on this site who are arguing that killing is a Really Bad Idea, even the death penalty (personally I’m not sure what to do with the death penalty, to be honest, but the anti-death penalty folks are sure a whole lot less creepy about their justifications than the pro-death penalty folks), and who manage to ‘use logic to trump their baser instincts’ (which I think is a lot of bullshit; I think it’s more a distinction between People Who Are Low on IQ/Uneducated/Illiberal and People Who Aren’t).

  71. #71 Mattias
    July 31, 2011

    I agree on the importance of tight gunlaws, and sympathize with your pragmatic approach to crime prevention.

    As far as the suggested ontological distinction between “physical force” and “value judgement” I am more cautious. Many concepts and premises you take for granted in the discussion above are not physical forces or objects, and I fail to see how these ontological factors are relevant here: is it a matter of potentiality and actuality? Value judgements are the foundation of all jurisdiction and legal practice: ‘how is this a crime?’ (legal practice) as well as ‘why is this a crime’ (moral philosophy). In that regard concepts of good and evil is infinitely more fundamental than for example Norwegian civil law or the U.N. declaration of human rights, which are later constructions based on the same concepts. In what way would you decide that what Breivik did was misconduct if it were to be decided by the physical force or ontological status?

  72. #72 Katharine
    July 31, 2011

    The important thing for me about this is that I think the courts should get rid of the notion of psychological responsibility, where they spend a lot of time trying to figure out if a given perpetrator can be assigned blame. I don’t care about blame, culpability, punishment or revenge. I care about preventing crime and repeat crime.

    The problem here is that you might be imprisoning the wrong person.

    Regarding the issue of mental illness and crime, I don’t take the hard-line position of ‘ABLEISM!’ every time someone associates the two, because it’s more complex than that. The mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, but there’s no denying that mental illness is more prevalent among criminals than everyone else and that mental illness can be a major contributor to crime.

    The distinction must also be made as to which types of disorders provoke crime: mood disorders, psychotic disorders, developmental disorders? In addition, can substance abuse be considered a mental illness, as it is not totally organic?

  73. #73 Gumph
    July 31, 2011

    It doesn’t matter whether there’s a link between mental illness and crime or not: the fact is that not all violent criminals are mad. It is weak thinking and unscientific to say that someone is mad because they commit an atrocity – it is an entirely circular argument, with no evidence to back it up.

  74. #74 Birger Johansson
    August 1, 2011

    Breivik background: “How the far-right found a voice in tolerant Nordic countries” http://www.thelocal.se/35222/20110728/

  75. #75 Martin R
    August 3, 2011

    Wrote Mattias, In what way would you decide that what Breivik did was misconduct if it were to be decided by the physical force or ontological status?

    You mean there might be people who would find the guy’s behaviour neither criminal nor crazy? Well, we can no doubt agree that his deed was unusual. And if we ask around with the Golden Rule in mind, there doesn’t seem to be many people who want their kids to get gunned down by their political opponents.

  76. #76 Mattias
    August 5, 2011

    You are most likely correct about the broad agreement and this is certainly
    due to the fact that most people found their positions on other grounds than the ones you mention.

  77. #77 Martin R
    August 6, 2011

    I’m confused now. You’re arguing that morals are not nature-given. I agree. What did I say to give you the opposite impression?

    (Though I think in-group morals are probably strongly genetically conditioned. Trouble is, people are really good at excluding each other from the group.)

  78. #78 Mattias
    August 6, 2011

    I was only arguing two things: (i) that denying the possibility of great moral misconduct in states of full sanity seems necessary for the position that man is good by nature, and (ii) that the factors you discuss are in themselves insufficient for deciding if something is a moral offence (at least they seem not to be widely used elsewhere). I did not mean to state that you held the position that mankind is by nature good. Hope this clears things up. When do we get to see you in Sigtuna?

  79. #79 Martin R
    August 7, 2011

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that sane humans are 100% good by nature in a UN Human Rights sense. But I do believe that you need to be nuts to commit face-to-face mass murder. (This issue is complicated by the fact that it is impossible to observe human nature without the impact of culture/nurture.)

    The bomber who dropped a nuke on Hiroshima, though, was probably in good mental shape at the time. Pressing a button is not a very visceral kind of murder.

    It’s our turn to invite you guys!

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