A Little Barbarism

Breivik apologizes for killing Oslo bystanders, but not teens at summer camp – CSMonitor.com

Breivik bombed the government buildings as part of an attack on the Labor Party, which he blames for undermining Norwegian society with its policies that promote multiculturalism, such as lenient immigration policies. Later that day, he shot and killed 69 at the party’s youth summer camp on Utøya island, which he called Labor’s “indoctrination camp.”

When asked by Svein Holden, Oslo public prosecutor, if he had similar regrets about killing the young people at Utøya, he replied with no hesitation, “No, I do not.” “Utøya was the best political target in Norway at the time,” he said….

He replied that the attack was part of “a little barbarism, to avoid a larger barbarism,” referring to his belief that Muslim immigration poses a threat to Norway and the rest of Europe.

This is the standard justification for sovereign state violence: “a little barbarism, to avoid a larger barbarism.” I would not necessarily advocate pacifism, but I wish we could be explicit about what we are doing when we support police and military activities that are considered to be “preventative”, or “counterinsurgency”, or “riot control” activities. I suppose the really stupid people need it to be sugar-coated, but I say, let them be offended.

This would bring out into the open the question of cultural superiority. Maybe some cultures are superior; it is hard for me to be objective, because I think my idea of culture is superior, but I think most people’s ideas of culture are not. It would be best to admit that this is a question of preference first, which could be evaluated on purely pragmatic grounds. If there is no pragmatic justification for a cultural bias beyond the claim that defying it makes vicious people uncomfortable, I’m afraid it is useless and degrading. Such biases can be kept private, in one’s mind, bedroom, or social club, but are worthless as public policy. The defense of narrow-minded brutality is not made more valid when it is coated in Southern mannerisms, sarcastic pseudo-intellectualism, vacuous statistical analysis, or any vile form of inhumanity.

Prosecutors have recommended that Breivik be remanded to compulsory mental care for his otherwise punishable acts, based on the first forensic psychiatric report in November that found Breivik paranoid schizophrenic. A second forensic report later deemed Breivik not psychotic.

Breivik has repeatedly over the course of the trial thwarted attempts by the prosecution to portray him as insane. He has said he wants to be considered sane so that his ideology will stand stronger.

“If I had been a bearded jihadist, they never would have appointed [psychiatrist] experts,” Breivik told Geir Lippestad, his defense attorney, during cross-examination today. “But because I am a militant nationalist, so then I am exposed to blatant racism whereby they try to delegitimize all I stand for.”

From this case we can extract certain ways of defining killers:

  1. soldiers
  2. police
  3. politicians
  4. criminals
  5. crazies
  6. culture warriors

I’ll skip over state-sanctioned killing here. From a law enforcement standpoint, I would like to see all perpetrators of criminal acts tried as criminals by an impartial state apparatus, simply on the basis of their bad behavior. Using insanity as a political label is insidious if one is defining virtue in psychological terms, and that is why Breivik resents it; I would have him labeled insane just out of spite. Realistically, it is only a problem for those who are superstitious about the purity of science. Insanity has always ever meant only the defiance of momentary social norms.

Defining killers in cultural terms is natural, but has no place in law; it is the equivalent of managing a human society like a zoo. Yet this is how we in “Western” societies define foreign terrorists and most domestic killers. This is how Breivik also wants to be treated, because he perceives it as a position of respect.


3 thoughts on “A Little Barbarism

  1. Regarding the trial, isn’t it achingly obvious that the grandstanding is Breivik’s big payoff? The law is whatever it is, but they might consider the deterrent effect, of the process as well as the sentence.

    Regarding the previous posting, the “commentariat” can probably swallow thousands of comments like the one I just made and go its own sweet way regardless. Recently I listened to UK Radio 4 news on the Bradford by-election (won by the independent George Galloway on his “respect” ticket, largely on an appeal to the strongly Asian Muslim electorate.) Now, I used to live in that constituency (I was teaching at the University), many of my students were from the so-called “community”, and whatever its problems are (and they might not be as bad as all that), at least I have seen them at first hand. And although I am normally a small c conservative (bic C at election time), the result did bring a smile to my face. Well, Radio 4 spent half the program, about 15 minutes, on a succession of talking heads all moaning about how out-of-touch they were and how they were all in the “Westminster bubble” – without talking to a single Musilm or person from Bradford! Amazing.

  2. I would agree with John Tertullian/Contra Celsum that the Norwegians would like to label Breivik as insane for political reasons. However, it is more likely that they will end up rationalizing his behavior as being due to separating himself from the dominant culture (this is the trend I have perceived in Germany). That is why I think they are allowing the grandstanding, in order to show everyone that this is what happens when you separate yourself, and in the end you will be judged mentally disturbed because of it.

    It really doesn’t matter how he is labeled; they will punish him anyway, since he has no political influence. In an African country, such a person would have been cut up into small pieces already, or he would get a slap on the wrist and be forgotten, depending on the political triangulation.

    It is the unfair political aspect that perturbs Contra Celsum–that is, the way the Norwegians seem to be ignoring the question of depravity in order to rationalize Breivik’s behavior. In the US, the question of sanity would be quickly dispensed with, and the main issue (as for any terrorist) would be whether to pigeonhole him as a pro-Muslim, anti-black, or anti-government extremist. But to an American, that kind of political correctness is normal.

    To your point, Patrick, I’m afraid we’re all subject to the whims of the media (whatever that means now). That is why I say that politics is meaningless for most people: because our perceptions of political reality, as mediated by news sources, are mostly illusory. These illusions then feed into the delusion that our opinions have a mystical, organic connection to broader political movements.

Instigate some pointless rambling

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