Astyages's Weblog

July 29, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik: Mad or Evil?

 Anders Behring Breivik: Mad or Evil?


David L Rowlands

Yesterday, over at my favorite e-pub, the Window Dressers’ Arms, Pig & Whistle, fellow ‘piglet’ Vectis Lad asked me which explanation I favored about the slaughter committed by Anders Behring Breivik, number 1, he’s mad, or number 2, he’s evil?

Here’s my answer:

The answer is neither. You see, neither of these ‘explanations’ actually explains anything about his actions… why he did what he did… rather, they ‘explain it away’; they give a ‘plausible’ explanation, which satisfies people’s prejudices (prejudices born in their own epistemologies) but which really tells us nothing at all about the nature and causes of this rampage. They leave us thinking we have an explanation, but in fact all we have is confirmation of our own prejudices… which also need to be examined for the role they play in the social construction of the ‘psychopathic mass-murderer’.

Moreover, this phenomenon is a social phenomenon; a social problem; and as Emile Durkheim, in “The Rules of Sociological Method”, said, “Social problems have social causes”. The psychological ‘explanation’ (ie. ‘he’s mad’), however, seeks to locate the causes of the problem completely within the psyche of the individual and ignores the social nature of the construction of this monster. But the fact is ‘we’ (ie. our societies) create these monsters… So we need to look at how we do this if we want to avoid creating more of ’em in future. And that means we need to look very closely at what it is he thought he was doing… and ask what is it about our societies which generates such a worldview. As I’ve already indicated on the Drum, the answer lies in his deepest beliefs… his ‘christianity’ and his self-concept as some kind of ‘knight templar’.

In my book ‘Aesthetics of Violence’ I show that human sacrifices and/or scapegoat rituals are in fact paradigmatic of violence, yet christianity itself revolves around the central human-sacrifice/scapegoat-ritual of Jesus… Is it so far-fetched to suggest that there’s a connection between this belief in salvation through human sacrifice and the slaughter Oslo witnessed?

Now, when I said ‘neither’, this doesn’t mean I don’t think he was ‘evil’, don’t get me wrong… He’s evil alright, but not in the sense that christians mean when they use that term… For christians evil is an absolute, which is personified in their ‘devil’; their ‘anti-god’; and this devil supposedly corrupts the minds/spirits of people, seducing them away from ‘god’ and turning them into ‘evil’ creatures… But once again, you notice how this lets society off the hook? How it may satisfy a christian concept of an ‘evil’ man and seems to explain it, yet in fact once again it actually explains nothing?

You see, the truth is that good and evil are NOT absolutes; they are relative concepts: Thus certainly this man and his actions were evil to his victims and their families and to anyone else who was moved to outrage at his actions (myself included!) But in Breivik’s own mind he was apparently doing something he thought was ‘necessary’… In his own mind he was fighting the good fight… (It’s interesting that in this little scenario we can also see the impossibility of separating ‘good’ from ‘evil’; in Taoist terms these exist as complementary opposites which actually depend on each other for their existence).

So, if we really want to find the true (social) causes of this behavior we need to look very closely at Breivik’s worldview; and if we want to avoid further future horrors, we need to deconstruct that worldview… This is not an easy task, because what it means is that we must deconstruct the whole militaristic mentality, with its Social Darwinist emphasis on ‘competition’: Far too many people think solely in terms of what Nietzche referred to as ‘the struggle of all against all’ (which manifests itself as ‘the rat race’ in peacetime countries and in total war otherwise).

‘Competition’, however, is only half of the story! ‘Social Darwinism’ is a worldview which lacks a proper understanding of the nature and importance of ‘cooperation’; ‘competition’s’ complementary opposite. The fact of the matter is that humankind would never have survived were it not for cooperation; the fact is that we are social animals who work together to achieve what individuals could never achieve on their own. In this day and age particularly, we need most especially to focus more on cooperation than competition, because it is the one-sided, Social Darwinist view of the sole and ultimate importance of competition which leads to things like the GFC, terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More importantly, the global problems the world is currently facing require global action, which must depend on global cooperation, if we are to have even a snowflake’s chance in hell of our species surviving much past the end of this century. If we don’t ALL work together to fix these problems; if we continue to be concerned only about Number One and maintain a ‘grab as much as you can and to hell with everyone else attitude’, then, as Mr Frazer, from Dad’s Army was always so fond of saying, “We’re DOOMED!”

Anyway, that’s my two-penn’orth!


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