Norway and the Human Mind
The whole thing is pretty fucked. The political attack on Norway over the weekend is a gut churning reminder of just how monstrous humans can be. After a fatal bomb attack on the government hub in Oslo, Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik infiltrated a political youth party camp on Utaoya to open fire on teenagers. Ninety two dead. Disturbing accounts of this event describe the killer calmly walking around shooting everyone. The word ‘calmly’ is the most troubling to me.
In what moral mindset could you justify killing innocent teenagers? Many would answer this question by saying a ‘sick’ or an ‘evil’ one. We can do better than that. More so, we should do better than that. Understanding the full nature of immoral and callous acts will better equip us to prevent them.
Breivik calculated this. The shooting coincided with the bombing and he disguised himself as a policeman; some form of twisted moral justification had to take place in his mind to make such a blood wrenched statement. Whatever the killer’s political motivations were, why they manifested as a mass shooting and not just an angry letter should be a focal point.
We find the old cliché of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” having to resurface. Based on what is known of Breivik, he considers himself the latter.
To compare him to an actual freedom fighter, we can look at Nelson Mandela. In 1961 Mandela coordinated anti-apartheid sabotage campaigns and bombing attacks against government targets. He also raised funds for guerrilla movement, MK, which caused many innocent civilian casualties in collateral damage.
The main distinction is that Breivik made a violent response to a peaceful climate, where Mandela coordinated political attacks in what was already considered a circumstance of warfare. Context dictates what is extreme.
If these two men are opposite ends of the violence spectrum, which they may not be, the difficulty lies in who and how many people decide where the cut off is. In Mandela’s case his political actions were said to be a last resort after years of peaceful protest. It’s clear that Breivik’s actions were disproportionate to the political milieu he was responding to. Plus, making teenagers an active target is a stronger sign of psychoticism than can be defended politically.
As horrible as these events are, they make me realise the that complex capabilities of the human mind are a scary thing. Before the events, Breivik tweeted “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who only have interests”. This says to me that any belief system that lacks self-doubt can lead to heinous behaviour.
Hence, from the information available, ignorance of context and self-certainty appear to be two perilous ingredients when added to a human mind. I hope we can soon learn what else contributes to such a fatal recipe.