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.


79 thoughts on “Norway’s McVeigh Murders

  1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. @ 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.


  7. @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.


  8. “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.


  9. 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.


  10. 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.


  11. 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.


  12. 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.


  13. 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.


  14. 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).


  15. 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.


  16. 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).


  17. 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?


  18. 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?


  19. 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.


  20. 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.


  21. 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.


  22. 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.)


  23. 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?


  24. 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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