Anders Behring Breivik, the problem of evil, the demonization of the mentally ill, medicine, science and ethics - blog by Gurdur

 




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Anders Behring Breivik, the problem of evil, the demonization of the mentally ill, medicine, science and ethics
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Posted 25-Jul-2011 at 07:01 PM (19:01) by Gurdur
Updated 25-Jul-2011 at 07:22 PM (19:22) by Gurdur

As people struggle to cope with Breivik's deeds, they often call him "deranged" and "insane", which is simply wrong, unscientific empty name-calling, and adds to the demonization of the actual mentally ill - most of whom will never hurt anyone but themselves if anyone. Most of us can agree that Breivik is evil, but evil is a very loose concept, often misused by people, adding to the confusion. Many of us can agree that there is no point in describing natural events or sheer randomicity as evil; but some will, seeing the hand of God behind every falling rock, a stance that in the end leads to absolute moral meaninglessness.

Many of us will agree evil is a concept that is only meaningfully applied to some humans and their actions. By most of our standards, Breivik was deeply evil in his planned-out face-to-face murder of tens of unarmed, very young innocents; and yet, there are those who try making excuses for Breivik, his Oslo bombing and Utřya shootings, casting blame on the Labour party and government of Norway, or on liberals and so on.

Mark Steyn, a columnist, is one of those seeking to evade moral responsibility for any part in helping create the atmosphere of overblown, hateful rhetoric in which Breivik thrived as he formed his plans. Steyn deliberately mocks recognition of the Islamophobia that Breivik himself cited as reason for his deeds, yet that precisely is what Breivik used as justification - his allegation that the Labour government was helping Muslims take over Norway.

Breivik was encouraged in his beliefs by others; the only difference between Breivik and others preaching violent extremism is that Breivik actually carried out deeds, and targeted those whom he saw as responsible or potentially responsible in the future for the alleged situation he railed against.

The choice of targets, and the actual carrying out of action; that is the only difference. Steyn claims, "when a Norwegian man is citing Locke and Burke as a prelude to gunning down dozens of Norwegian teenagers, he is lost in his own psychoses", which only goes to show that Steyn simply does not know what he is talking about, and has no idea what a psychosis is.

Let's get that out of the way again: there is simply no evidence at all at this time whatsoever to show any mental illness on the part of Anders Behring Breivik. He showed long-term planning, his behaviour was not apparent in extremeness or oddness to onlookers till he started shooting. He does not show much delusions of grandeur in the medical sense, or display much of seeing himself as the target of conspiratorial persecution. Therefore it is simply not classical clinical paranioa on his part (one of the very few mental illnesses in which the sufferer can appear rational and make long-term plans based on his illness). It is tempting and easy to see his preoccupation with Muslims as an idée fixe, but that only begs the question of how many saw and still see all real and alleged problems with Muslims in Western society as being a pressing and central concern. Just how is Breivik different from them? In no way, except that Breivik carried out actions, and made his targets those whom he saw as responsible or potentially so, rather than Muslims themselves. Moreover, Breivik was not monomanic; he not only saw Muslims as a problem, but also liberalism, multiculturalism, liberal religion, and so on - and he tentatively targeted what he saw as liberal media for his deeds as well.

So why did Breivik end up murdering teenagers? For much the same reasons as the Islamist Al Qaeda 9/11 terrorists targeted innocents in the Twin Towers, for much the same reasons as the Christian Timothy James McVeigh did not care that 19 children under the age of 6 were killed by his bombing in Oklahoma City. The victims were narcissistically seen as mere objects in the carrying out of what was a symbolic as well as a real attack; the victims were dehumanised as mere props to the narcissistic agenda. What is the difference between Breivik and Martin Bryant, the man who carried out the speciously similar Tasmanian shootings in the Port Arthur massacre of 1996? Bryant showed deep psychological problems almost all his life, a very low IQ, and constant actual potential for violence for decades, and many self-harm episodes. There is so far no evidence at all for Breivik being similar. Bryant also left no real manifesto, and his complaint was centered around people not payng him the attention he desired, while Breivik centered his complaint around what the Labour Party was doing to Norwegian society - a very complex, abstract and non-personal complaint. Breivik is simply not in any way mentally ill in the way Bryant was.

And yet many will try claiming Breivik to be insane, despite no evidence for that at all. This is mere name-calling, non-medical and unscientific; it is also a very dangerous path to go down - the mistaken pseudo-medicalization of ethical problems. We've been there before; in the old USSR, Soviet psychiatrists would commonly diagnose political dissidents as mentally ill, and then forcibly "treat" them. If you want to actually begin understanding what the medicine and science of genuine insanity in criminality is, then an excellent start is to read "The Mad, The Bad, And The Innocent: The Criminal Mind on Trial - Tales of a Forensic Psychologist", by Barbara Kirwin. Be aware there is much more to study after that. Kirwin is also very good on how the insane are routinely and unjustifiably demonized - as she points out, the insane very rarely physically hurt anyone else other than themselves. Bryant is a very rare outlier, and much motivated by his own choices as well as his own mental illness. Breivik is hardly an outlier - the history of terrorism in pursuit of goals and symbolic actions is a very long and event-filled one.

What happens if all the rhetoric about Norway drowing in criminal Muslims is taken seriously? If the rhetoric were true at all, it would be seemingly justfiable to take action; the only argument then is how and what. It is the unreality of much of the rhetoric that makes Breivik's actions even more evil and difficult to comprehend; the makers of the rhetoric have often depended on moral evasiveness to pretend it was justifiable hyperbole. Yet we see now the fruits of such atmospheres of hate rhetoric, as when too Gabby Giffords and others were shot in Tucson, USA.

There was an interesting post looking at extremism, by Andrew Brown on Guardian Cif a while back on looking at the novel "The Midwich Cuckoos" by John Wyndham (called "Village Of The Damned" in the USA). Brown pointed to the very ordinary roots of what can become atrocities; the only argument is whether the attrocities were justified or not (in the novel, Zellaby's suicide-bombing of a classroom full of children who are the spearhead of an alien invasion of the Earth).

John W. Gardner once said, "Extremism involves simple diagnosis of the world's ills and conviction that there are villains back of it all" , and so it is. The only argument left over after accepting the rhetoric is over whether the perception of reality is correct, and if it is, then over what tactics to use, what atrocities to commit, against whom to commit them.

It is a matter of choice, not a matter of complusion forced by mental illness. If you are fighting in World War Two, do you bomb Dresden or not? Do you use the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or not? Do you fight against evil, or adopt radical pacifism? These are all matters of free choice, of evolved free will, of comparative ethics - and do not involve mental illness in the slightest.

Where you have evolved free will, some will choose to do good, others will choose to do evil. Where there is freedom of choice, some will exercise that. Occasionally someone will make a choice so unusual as to be incomprehensible to most, whether evil or self-sacrifice, but it is all still a matter of choice.

And some will use others to egg themselves on to commit deeds, some will contribute to atmospheres of rhetoric and encouragement, and thereby make the committing of horrific deeds much more likely. Mutual egging on is a commonplace daily activity. As Dr. Marc Sageman, a a forensic psychiatrist, former C.I.A. officer and consultant on terrorism said, there are no no overt signs of mental illness in Mr. Breivik’s writings, and:

Quote:
... it would be unfair to attribute Mr. Breivik’s violence to the writers who helped shape his world view. But at the same time, he said the counterjihad writers do argue that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam “is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged. Well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged. This rhetoric,” he added, “is not cost-free.”
It has nothing to do with insanity in any way, and narcissism is a commonplace trait, simply magnified in the cases of those like Breivik. It is all a matter of choice, and whether you see others as humans on their own terms -- or merely as stage props to the theatrical statement you wish to make.



        


              

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  1. Old Comment
    iamwombat's Avatar
    Here a link to an article on an American blogger that is purported to be a favorite of Breiviks. http://www.slate.com/id/2299967/
    Posted 25-Jul-2011 at 07:50 PM (19:50) by iamwombat iamwombat is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iamwombat View Comment
    Here a link to an article on an American blogger that is purported to be a favorite of Breiviks. http://www.slate.com/id/2299967/
    Ah, Pamela Geller. Why am I so unsurprised? Many thanks, IAmWombat!
    Posted 25-Jul-2011 at 07:54 PM (19:54) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Posted 25-Jul-2011 at 08:41 PM (20:41) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    More from those who do not find Breivik "insane" or "mad" ---
    Professor Andrew Silke, author of "The Psychology of Counter-Terrorism", speaks on why Breivik is a terrorist and not insane, in a BBC piece, and Guy Walters reinforces some points in a blog post of his on The New Statesman blogs.
    Posted 27-Jul-2011 at 02:05 PM (14:05) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  5. Old Comment

    Facebook Conversation

    Thank you. Conversation on facebook, if you or anyone else reading would like join in:
    http://www.facebook.com/philgroom/po...50261716819645
    Posted 28-Jul-2011 at 04:01 PM (16:01) by Phil Groom
  6. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar

    Facebook Conversation

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Phil Groom View Comment
    Thank you. Conversation on facebook, if you or anyone else reading would like join in:
    http://www.facebook.com/philgroom/po...50261716819645
    Nope, this link still doesn't work. Are you sure your Facebook wall posts are public and not private?
    Posted 28-Jul-2011 at 08:54 PM (20:54) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  7. Old Comment

    you might be interested

    Gurdur, you might be interested in the threat assessment from the Norwegian police. They find that the extreme right does produce violent rhetoric, but that Breivik himself produced moderate rhetoric, and was therefore more dangerous because he was hidden and alone. Further, many Norwegians are indicating that it is better to have this violent rhetoric out in the open, rather than the alternative.--Ann*Larabee
    Posted 29-Jul-2011 at 10:23 PM (22:23) by Unregistered
  8. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar

    you might be interested

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Unregistered View Comment
    Gurdur, you might be interested in the threat assessment from the Norwegian police. They find that the extreme right does produce violent rhetoric, but that Breivik himself produced moderate rhetoric, and was therefore more dangerous because he was hidden and alone. Further, many Norwegians are indicating that it is better to have this violent rhetoric out in the open, rather than the alternative.--Ann*Larabee
    Now that is interesting. Links to sources, pretty please, whomever you may be?
    Posted 29-Jul-2011 at 10:54 PM (22:54) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  9. Old Comment
    Nice article.

    Just to add some context to the "insanity" dimension that some commentators are suggesting, in my time as a criminal lawyer in England I have never once been involved in case where someone has successfully used that, insanity, as a defence.

    I don't know about other jurisdictions, but the threshold for which a defendant must satisfy to be considered insane to the degree that they are not criminally responsible for their actions is extremely high.

    So, yes, as you remark, Anders is neither medically or legally insane, and it is wrong for others to suggest otherwise.
    Posted 03-Aug-2011 at 07:21 AM (07:21) by Joseph B.
  10. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Joseph B. View Comment
    Nice article.

    Just to add some context to the "insanity" dimension that some commentators are suggesting, in my time as a criminal lawyer in England I have never once been involved in case where someone has successfully used that, insanity, as a defence. I don't know about other jurisdictions, but the threshold for which a defendant must satisfy to be considered insane to the degree that they are not criminally responsible for their actions is extremely high. So, yes, as you remark, Anders is neither medically or legally insane, and it is wrong for others to suggest otherwise.
    Many thanks for your comments here, and I will blog later on the actual legalities in various countries.
    Posted 03-Aug-2011 at 12:54 PM (12:54) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
    Updated 03-Aug-2011 at 06:21 PM (18:21) by Gurdur
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