Sunday, July 24, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik: How to prevent the next tragedy?

Image from breivik's manifesto

The tragedy in Norway caused by Anders Behring Breivik raises many questions.

The first question to pop into the minds of the tabloid press was:
"Why are the Islamists attacking us again?" The Mirror implicated Al-Qaeda in its first front page response. Then it turned out that it wasn't an Islamic terrorist, but a Christian terrorist, and the media let go of the terrorist angle, and has been instead asking the tough "How does it feel to have your son/daughter blown away in a massacre?" questions instead.

Here I try to look at the real questions that the journos should be asking.

Is Breivik "mad"?

The authoritative answer to this must be made by psychiatrists when they have interviewed him. As a psychiatrist, from what I have read of him so far, I have seen no clear evidence of psychosis. Clearly his terrorist actions are psychopathic, since he showed no empathy for his young victims, but that is tautological, since no terrorists show empathy for their victim.  At school he helped kids who were being bullied (Danish link) which rather works against the psychopathy tag. His ability to plan long-term and act (wrongly) in the interests of what he believed is his culture rather than his own immediate interests also works against the diagnosis of personal psychopathy.

On the other hand, there are some odd statements in his Manifesto.

"I took a year off when I was 25 and played WoW [World of Warcraft] PvE hardcore for a year."

Obsessive gaming is a fairly common phenomenon among young men. Did the wargaming 24/7 for a year have an effect on his mind? Again, we will have to wait for the psychiatrists' report.

He signs off his manifesto:
"Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe and one of several leaders of the National and pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement"

That's a bit fantastical and megalomanic. It summarises the message in his video, posted a few hours before his terrorist act. The basic thinking in his manifesto is that Christian Europe is being taken over by a conspiracy of Marxists, multi-culturalists and Islamists. Any European who backs these ideas are traitors. The Knights Templar are to be reformed as a resistance to the Islamification of Europe.

In one part of his manifesto he says that Muslims are animals: his main enemy are the politicians who encourage the animals to invade. Hence his attack on the Labour youth camp.

He hopes to use his court appearance to spread his message. The police are finding him a "difficult suspect" - I imagine because every answer he gives wanders off into the subject of the Knights Templar &c.

He hopes to do more of this when he gets into the dock. Unless the judge blocks his access to the media.

The thinking is paranoid, but since it is shared by others in a political culture, it is not evidence in itself that Anders is a paranoid schizophrenic. There is no evidence of thought disorder as such in his writing, that I have seen. 

Rather than being evidence of personal psychosis, it is evidence that nationalist paranoia is once more rising to disturb the peace of Europe.

Psychiatry does not really have much helpful to say. Breivik may be given "diagnoses" of  borderline personality disorder or borderline psychosis, but in the end, the psychosis is not so much personal as political, because he shares his beliefs with many other people.

The closest we can get to psychopathy is by creating a new category of social psychopathy, where a group of political activists act solely in the interests of their social group to the detriment of other social groups. Their identity is extended to include their class or sub-class, be that white, British, "Christian European", Islamic or whatever. This group then acts psychopathically, without regard for the feelings or interests of anyone outside the group.

(BTW, having said that, psychology has much help to offer in the management of quasi-psychopathic regimes.)

What was his motivation?

Motivation is more interesting. He clearly saw himself as a political actor, and so, in the absence of evidence for psychosis, it is as a political actor that he should be judged.

First, anger is the main emotion that we find with right wing or extreme conservative bloggers and commentators. Disdain and contempt for the opposition, a firm sense that they are so right they do not have to explain their reasoning.

In his manifesto, Breivik believes that the aforementioned grand conspiracy is taking place to destroy Europe's "Christian" culture and replace it with an Islamist culture.

This thinking is the political equivalent of paranoia. It is well understood. You identify an ethnic, religious or cultural group and project all your internalised problems, your anger, your worries, your conflicts, onto them. It then all becomes simple. All you have to do is to defeat the "enemy" and all will be well.

This is the classic cognitive path that gave rise to World War II.

Mathew Goodwin has an important analysis of what is happening.

Breivik and the EDL have found a workaround for the racist hate speech laws problem. They are not against people on account of their race. No. It is their religion that is the problem, not their race. Islam is trying to take over the world, using multiculturalism as its cover.

So once again, the West has to confront its demon:. Hate politics, based on paranoia and projection.

This is going to be hard. However, there is a glimmer of light behind the clouds.  The  Mail OnLine, which up until now has done as much as anyone to stir up hate against multi-culturism and human rights, today posts a piece about Breivik and the EDL.

How do we prevent the next attack?

Dare we hope that Breivik could lead to the Mail and other tabloids actually thinking about how it encourages hate politics? I doubt it, because really addressing hate politics involves a lot of thought, and covers a lot of ground. To communicate all the factors in play in a way their readers could understand would require real journalistic skill. But we live in hope.

Defeating the extreme nationalist Right involves more than counter-demonstrations, or Ministers of the Crown lecturing them. It involves looking at policies on housing and employment, since homelessness and joblessness are the twin burners that lift the extremists'  hot air balloon. Both unemployment and homelessness are unnnecessary, and maybe grey politicians will be stimulated to address these problems if the BNP makes progress. The situation needs a bunch of other reforms. And - yes, we do need to address immigration, since that is clearly a provocation to the likes of the EDL. Addressing immigration means working towards avoiding war. It means addressing population growth and family size - a big religious and cultural question if ever there was one - including the question of how to manage contraception refuseniks.

The political and economic background matters. But so also is early identification of killers like Breivik.

A Venn diagram approach might be helpful. With Breivik we have a rather isolated individual with extreme right views, who had a gun, and also had access to large amounts of Ammonium Nitrate, which has dual use as fertiliser and explosive.

Now in principle, if the police and security services look at the databases, they can find right-wing extremists who have gun licences. Those individuals deserve closer scrutiny.

Are they on Facebook? What are they writing in the comments columns on blogs?

This immediately raises questions of civil liberty. But these are precisely the liberties that the Right would swiftly take away from all of us if they were running the country.

Intrusion into privacy is a hot topic at the moment. The extremists will view it as a confirmation of the Multiculturalist Conspiracy. But this is how paranoia always works. It is a self - fulfilling prophecy.

There is a just and proper reason for security services to investigate right-wingers, in order to avoid a repeat of the Norwegian tragedy.

So this is the toughest question:

"Should known right wingers who own guns be subject to personality profiling and increased surveillance?"

The answer from the press and politicians will probably be "no".

Next post: Right wing commentators have some sould searching and re-thinking to do


Anonymous said...

and why did some idiots think it was an Israeli-sponsored operation?

not my fave website but wtf is this woman on?

DocRichard said...

The PSC lady is not reliable. But the Jerusalem Post, no less, says Breivik had "eld fiercely anti-Islamic and pro-Israel views, according to a 1,500 page manifesto...which mentions Israel 359 times and “Jews” 324 times, Breivik lays out his worldview, which includes an extreme, bizarre and rambling screed of Islamophobia, far-right Zionism and venomous attacks on Marxism and multi-culturalism."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Here is the local Finnish discussion about guns.
YLE: Parties at odds over gun law reform

I find it not an issue of civil liberty at all to have
water-tight monitoring of who has a handgun and what they
are up to with it. A handgun is an assault weapon against
the person; it is not used for hunting, but only against
human beings.

This at applies at least in Europe, if not in the USA ...
where the rhetoric is one of arms-race-style escalation of
force, rather than mutual enforceable communitarian control
against the tragedy of the commons.

If one applies for a handgun licence to practise how to kill
and maim people, the rest of us have every perfect right to
know everything of what he is up to. Otherwise, why bother
even having a licensing process?

“Dual-use” items such as (sawed-off) shotguns or ammonium
nitrate is another matter, but for handgun it is clear what
ought to be done.

DocRichard said...