This should be a very short post. It is really not that difficult to define Breivik's actions and Abdo's plans as evil, and all civilized people, and all those who evince pretensions to being numbered among the civilized, should be able to agree on the fundamentals. Unfortunately, we neither have a decent theory of action which can explain Breivik and Abdo, nor do we have a common moral compass which allows us to understand their behavior in useful ways.
In the last week we have been treated to a variety of shop worn memes purporting to explain Breivik's actions and, in a typical MSM contrast, we have been treated to the relative absence of the obvious memes which could be used to explain Abdo's behavior.
(Consider the "paper of record's" description of Abdo: Two reporters and the usual army of editors manage to describe Abdo as a Soldier Arrested in Suspected Bomb Plot (who) Had Series of Disputes With Army; despite acknowledging a religious element to his disagreements with the army [and one is left to wonder how child porn and murder fit into his Islamic beliefs] the Times does not even once venture into any explorations of what those beliefs might be! The New York Times is remarkable for its fastidious adherence to the highest standards of modesty when discussing Islamic terrorists; they showed no such diffidence in discussing, and smearing, those who allegedly fueled Breivik's terrorism.)
Since I attempt on my blog to "Understand Our World" the first order of business would be to explain the limits of our understanding of action, to wit:
None of our Neurosciences, ranging from the most behavioral (Psychoanalysis) to the most biological (Neuro-psychiatry) have an adequate theory of action.
In other words, while we can often create post-hoc explanations that are convincing and superficially compelling, we have no theories that can predict future behavior, except in the most limited, mundane sense. This leaves us with a major lacuna in the center of our understanding of aberrant acts. Consider this from Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, the pen name of Anthony Daniels, who worked for many years as a Forensic Psychiatrist in England and was quoted in the WSJ Saturday:
Your garden-variety convicts, he contends, are much simpler subjects than a man like Breivik. To ask them why they steal, he says, "is like asking you why you have lunch." They want something, so they take it. "And since in Britain," he adds with a smirk, "the state does very little to discourage [thieves]," or to incarcerate them when they are caught, "the question is not why there are so many burglars, but why there are so few."
A Breivik is a deeper mystery. Of him, "you can say, 'This man is highly narcissistic, paranoid and grandiose,'" and this may lead you to seek reasons for that in his past—"his father disappeared at the age of 15 and so on and so forth." But uncovering such facts doesn't solve the mystery because "whatever you find, you would also find among hundreds or thousands or even millions of people who didn't do what he did." There is, he says, "always a gap between what is to be explained and your alleged explanation. So there's always a mystery, and I think that's going to remain."
[Dr. Dalrymple has some most interesting comments on our need to explain, and our self-deceptive belief that such explanations are possible but that is beyond the scope of this post.]
[As for a predictive science of individual behavior, I am indebted to, and retain a deep sense of satisfaction and humility with, Roger Penrose's explanation that consciousness may not be computable; he uses math and information science to show that a predictive science of consciousness may well require more computing power and time than the universe allows, a subset of the incompleteness theorem. If he is correct, and I do not doubt that he is, considering the complexity of the human brain and mind, we may someday improve in our ability to predict the behavior of large groups, where irrationalities sum, but will never be able to perfectly model or predict an individual's behavior at all times; the antecedents and interconnections in the mind/brain are simply too complex to ever decipher in less time and computational ability that is available in the known universe.]
What this means is that we will never be able to predict with certainty which person who complains that _____ (fill in the blanks with your own choice) is unfair will take violent action to redress his grievances and who among them (the vast majority who may agree) will either remain passive or work within the accepted bounds of social and political decency. That does not, however, argue for taking a passive stance when confronting those with grievances. We do, in fact, know that there are a number of factors that make violence more likely. Note that this is, as suggested above, a consideration of group dynamics from which violent individuals emerge.
1) In the face of societal regression, less mature modes of thinking and acting become more likely. In other words as a society is stressed, and as individuals are stressed, the ability to take appropriate actions (hard work, debate, organizing and voting to redress political grievances) becomes more friable; on the fringes, violence can come to be seen as the only alternative for those who experience themselves as weak and disenfranchised. Nonetheless, even at times of great stress and regression, the majority of people do not resort to violence unless directly threatened themselves; perhaps this is the greater mystery than why the few become dangerously violent.
2) In circumstances where one's culture, or sub-culture, explicitly sanctions or glorifies violence as a response to real and imagined slights, the risk of violence increases dramatically. Even here, it is remarkable that though close to 100% of Palestinians hate Jews and wish they would be destroyed, it is, despite the efforts of the entire society to mobilize to destroy their enemies, a small fraction who actually engage in murderous acts toward their neighbors. Here, the distinction between Breivik and Abdo is most stark. Breivik comes from a culture that finds violence anathema; he has been universally condemned, even by those who he and the Left-leaning MSM cite as inspiring his ideological posture. Abdo, although living within a culture that abjures the use of violence for resolving political disputes, identified himself as a member of a culture that celebrates the use of violence for expanding its writ. It is thus no coincidence that there are far more Abdos than Breiviks.
3) In addition to the societal factors, there is broadly speaking, one additional factor related to the individual's transition from passive to (violently) active, best explained by the Poet:
On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert
I pick up my money and head back into town
Driving cross the Waynesboro county line
I got the radio on and I'm just killing time
Working all day in my daddy's garage
Driving all night chasing some mirage
Pretty soon little girl I'm gonna take charge
The dogs on Main Street howl
'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land
I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this whole town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
Find somebody itching for something to start
- The Promised Land
When you have done all the "right things" and you still cannot succeed to your specifications, if you still don't "get the girl", the rage at frustrated desires can be overwhelming. One can start off as a loser or become a loser, ie one who loses in the competition for success and status in a modern economy; either way, for those will limited internal resources, there are only two options: the resulting rage can be turned inward (depression and suicide) or outward (externalized onto others in violence.)
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
In the early 21st century, the old orders are failing across the board. Societies are under great stress: the Blue, welfare state model is failing; Communism has failed; Islam has failed, and we are careening toward a modern world that looks more and more as if it is regressing to a Hobbseian state of nature. During times of extreme dislocation, the possibility that we are finally (once again?) approaching Apocalyptic times, becomes prominent and man's usual tendency for hyperbole escalates; exaggeration is de riguer at such times.
[See Richard Landes' new book, Heaven on Earth, for an explication of Millennialism in its various forms; sadly, it is likely to be a more useful discussion as time goes on.]
At this point I would only add one more element that distinguishes Breivik from Abdo: Breivik is no more evil than Abdo, but he was far more competent, a sad commentary on the much greater ability of Western Culture to cultivate competence even in its least able. Further, he was aided and abetted by the incompetence of those who the Norwegian innocents relied on for protection. A healthy, self correcting society would immediately recognize that there is never going to be a guarantee that a lone loser will not take up arms against his own feelings of inferiority and weakness and direct his inchoate rage at his surround. That hypothetical healthy society would recognize that a citizenry must be able to protect themselves (either by demanding competency from their police and military or arming themselves) or they will have forfeited the right to be free men and women.
Although I have not cited the Neuropsychiatric research or the Psychoanalytic investigations which support my contention that we currently lack anything approaching an adequate theory of action, the evidence is available for anyone who wants to devote the time and energy. The next step is to establish that Breivik's actions, just as Abdo (and Major Hasan, and Timothy McVeigh, and a host of other terrorists) were not psychotic, but were rather behaviors that occurred at the extreme limits of a continuum from normal behavior to pathological behavior without ever crossing the boundaries of psychotic behavior; to wit, neither Breivik nor Abdo are "crazy" either in the Psychiatric or the forensic sense.
To be continued...