Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Anders Breivik: cold and calculating, yes – but insane?
December 2, 2011 2:30 AM   Subscribe

Anders Breivik: cold and calculating, yes – but insane? Breivik probably has a pyschopath's lack of affective empathy. But that alone cannot explain his terrible cruelty. Interesting article in the Guardian by Simon Baron-Cohen.
posted by joost de vries (68 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, insane or not it kind off looks like the obvious route to get around the max. prison term. But if he's really psychotic/shizophrenic it's also the correct route (by Norwegian law).
posted by ZeroAmbition at 2:35 AM on December 2, 2011


Breivik seems to have been abused as a child (Google translate).
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:44 AM on December 2, 2011


I don't really get why anyone would think he was insane. He seemed perfectly rational, he just had a messed up goal.

Maybe psychiatrists examining him in person came to that conclusion, obviously they have more data, maybe he has a mild form of it that doesn't show up in his writing.

Anyway, I've never been comfortable with this "sociopath" talk about how some people just evil, they have different brain structures, they don't feel empathy, have limitless capacity for cruelty, etc.

It seems like an attempt to "other" people who do "bad" things as being somehow less human or inhuman. Like an escape valve for people to feel that normal humans aren't capable of great evil. But that seems really unlikely to me. Look at the milgrim experiments, for example. The people doing it might feel guilty afterward, but who knows if Breivik feels guilty now? If expresses guilt, people would just say that he's a sociopath who's really good at faking it.
posted by delmoi at 2:49 AM on December 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't know. It seems as though his reasoning was sane, but based on a poor grasp of reality. He lives with a paranoid delusional belief about the motives and activities of others.
posted by Jehan at 2:52 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure, but there are millions of people who follow crazy right-wing blogs and believe the same things he does. Are they all schizophrenics?
posted by delmoi at 2:54 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know if they're schizophrenic, but their beliefs may be pathological.
posted by Jehan at 2:55 AM on December 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Hmm, the diagnosis for paranoid schizophrenia has a pretty tight checklist of symptoms for diagnosis (precisely because it's easy to label all people who disagree with your worldview as "psychotic"), so I'm interested to hear more details from the psychiatrists' report about why he should qualify for this diagnosis. I was half-expecting a diagnosis of psychopathy or anti-social personality disorder (both of which include the superego-lacunae that makes cruelty psychically cost-free), but neither of those diagnoses would lead to him being deemed unfit to stand trial (since neither involve a distortion of one's perception of reality).
posted by LMGM at 2:59 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, a more critical take on the political stakes of making Breivik's madness "personal" from Tad Tietze
posted by LMGM at 3:02 AM on December 2, 2011


Another essay by Jonathan Simon (law prof at Berkeley) comparing US and Norwegian approaches to justice and the category of "legally insane", with a rather critical take on conservative US viewpoints of muscular justice. Also, it has zombies.
posted by LMGM at 3:07 AM on December 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


arguing that acts of human cruelty must by definition entail a loss of "affective" empathy

Acts of violence do not entail that someone is incapable of affective empathy.

When soldiers have been taught to dehumanize the enemy they have often become sadistic toward them. These soldiers might be highly empathic toward their friends and family, but they had no concern for the feelings of those lice, those vermin in the wrong colored uniforms. That's not mental illness, it's twisted ideology at work. It can infect a perfectly normal brain.

When someone who can feel empathy and should feel empathy turns sadistic, evil is the appropriate word. It's insulting to the mentally ill to compare them to sane monsters.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:15 AM on December 2, 2011 [13 favorites]


He's insane to be around soft prison. Insane = life imprisonment, if he was sane, away and again after a stern finger. Yes?
posted by Mblue at 3:57 AM on December 2, 2011


This reminded me of something by Chesterton I was reading:

"If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:57 AM on December 2, 2011 [45 favorites]


That's not mental illness, it's twisted ideology at work.

This is "enemy combatant" talk.

I don't really get why anyone would think he was insane.

Sometimes I'm confused by the reaction here. Some woman goes off on a racist rant on a London bus and she is branded on the blue as mentally ill, in obvious need of therapy, taking anti-psychotics, etc. This clown goes off on a racist rant by killing 77 people and we should be skeptical about him being declared mentally ill?

The Guardian hits the nail on the head:

"Such a focus serves to distract from the fact that Breivik's hatreds - of Muslims and Leftists - don't come from an illness but from a well-established political milieu."

So. Everyone needs to protect and keep their evil boogeyman alive and well, it seems.
posted by three blind mice at 3:58 AM on December 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


Everyone needs to protect and keep their evil boogeyman alive and well, it seems.
This is a problem.
posted by Mblue at 4:06 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it so hard to say that the man shows evidence of paranoid schizophrenia and that it was amplified by the "well-established political milieu"?
posted by knapah at 4:07 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


So. Everyone needs to protect and keep their evil boogeyman alive and well, it seems.

I am confused about what you mean by this. Are you saying that the guardian's wants to highlight his ideology in order to make him a bogeyman and discount the possibility of his being insane? That Brevik is so obviously a mad man that they could only be doing so to use him as a bludgeon in political arguments?

For me it does not follow as axiomatic that because he killed a lot of people he is insane. The use of violence is an effective political strategy and always has been. Terrorists are always extreme hard liners in regard to their ideologies --- for the most part their ideas have very marginal support in the wider population. They employ violence in an attempt to create polarisation which will tip a larger percentage of the population into their camp. This fails the great majority of the time, but not always.
posted by Diablevert at 4:14 AM on December 2, 2011


From the article: 1,518 pages of Breivik's manifesto do not appear to be the incoherent output of "thought disorder", but instead read like a rather linear, carefully crafted tome
IIRC, Breivik didn't write those 1,518 pages all by himself but created it by collecting other people's works from the internet. It's a hate scrapbook produced by an obsessive mind.
posted by elgilito at 4:14 AM on December 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is it so hard to say that the man shows evidence of paranoid schizophrenia and that it was amplified by the "well-established political milieu"?

Might be true, might not be. It may be the case that his personality and pathology caused him to seek out an account to the world that identified him as persecuted and required him to fight back. If you want to find out what something means, a madman is probably not the person to ask.

This is why the Guardian is wrong on this. Focus on Brevik's as someone with abhorrent politics is the distraction. It suggests that the reason such politics are wrong is that they inspire madmen to do terrible things, when in fact they are wrong because they inspire societies to do terrible things.
posted by howfar at 4:17 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


*Breivik - Either autocorrect is going mad or I am.
posted by howfar at 4:21 AM on December 2, 2011


@Diablevert

The only way to remove him forever is insanity, not guilt. It is the circle of the government.
posted by Mblue at 4:22 AM on December 2, 2011


IANAL.

As far as I understand it this could very well end up with Breivik locked away for longer than if he were criminally prosecuted. Norway doesn't have life imprisonment, but a 21-year maximum sentence (there might have been a 30-year maximum introduced for crimes against humanity?), and with this diagnosis, he gets interred in a secure psychiatric facility indefinitely. If he is incurably evil, this will mean life.
posted by Dysk at 4:23 AM on December 2, 2011


Dysk = my point.
posted by Mblue at 4:29 AM on December 2, 2011


The only way to remove him forever is insanity, not guilt. It is the circle of the government.

Well, then, I think that's wrong. If you've written your law so that the penalty for the worst crimes you can imagine is 30 years, you shouldn't redefine evil as madness just so you can punish it more. Evil's in us, always will be. The law has to be built to deal with it. If this case were to inspire people to rethink whether the country ought to have life imprisonment, fine. But otherwise it seems an inevitable corruption of justice. Of course, what Brevik did is so rare the question may never be put to the point again in this way.
posted by Diablevert at 4:30 AM on December 2, 2011


Scandanavian justice isn't about punishment, but about reform. Punishment is an aspect, but it's not the cruel vengeance we're used to in the 'States.

If he can be cured, he will be cured. If he cannot, he will be kept from society for as long as he is dangerous... if that's his whole life, so be it. It's not about pretending he's crazy to punish him more.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:34 AM on December 2, 2011 [21 favorites]


@Diablevet

It isn't rare. Murder for enjoyment is world wide.

Jack?
posted by Mblue at 4:36 AM on December 2, 2011


Even if we're prepared to take Breivik's general views as in some sense rational, the particular conclusion that the best way to move things forward was to go to this island and shoot as many people as possible seems insane to me.
posted by Segundus at 4:36 AM on December 2, 2011


@Segundus

He felt Knight Templar, sane in centuries past, murder for God. Taking this as insane now is just past guilt, not actual insanity.
posted by Mblue at 4:43 AM on December 2, 2011


If you've written your law so that the penalty for the worst crimes you can imagine is 30 years, you shouldn't redefine evil as madness just so you can punish it more.

Imprisonment is not always a penalty though, is it? We don't let lions roam the streets, but we don't feel the need to have a trial before we lock them up. "Mr Lion, you are an habitual criminal and a menace to gazelles!"*

The idea that the motivation behind a penal system is the just punishment of evil strikes me as slightly bizarre given the reality of how such systems act.

*thanks to Mark Steel for this.
posted by howfar at 4:46 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It suggests that the reason such politics are wrong is that they inspire madmen to do terrible things, when in fact they are wrong because they inspire societies to do terrible things.

In practice, it seems to me that "eliminationist" politics can do both, and often does.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:02 AM on December 2, 2011


There are some misconceptions about the Norwegian justice system here. Yes, they have a 21 year life sentence (30 for crimes against humanity), but this has the provision to keep a prisoner in detention (forvaring) after this time if they are still considered to be a threat to the public. This additional detention period is up to five years, but if after that five years, they are still considered to be a threat, a further five years detention is permitted etc etc.

Under the insanity condition, the person will be placed in psychiatric detention and assessed after three years. If they are not considered to be a threat to the public, they will be released. Otherwise, they will remain in psychiatric detention for a further three years, be reassessed and so on.

Both prison and psychiatric care can result in indefinite detention if the authorities deem the person to be a risk to the public.

I am also not a lawyer.
posted by knapah at 5:12 AM on December 2, 2011 [11 favorites]


This isn't about life time imprisonment or not - no matter if he's declared insane or not, there's no way he's seeing the outside of a cell again.

In Norway we have the option of using "forvaring" which means people can be kept imprisoned for an indeterminate amount of time as long as they're deemed a big enough threat to society. So if he's declared sane, he'll stay locked up too.
posted by ymgve at 5:13 AM on December 2, 2011


He's never going to be found "sane" enough to be released and I wouldn't be surprised if some "accident" befell him given the gravity of his crime. It would be interesting to compare his incarceration with the Arizona shooter who nearly killed Rep. Giffords.
posted by Renoroc at 5:26 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


In practice, it seems to me that "eliminationist" politics can do both, and often does.

Of course, but this misses the point. By comparison, the Bible inspires plenty of murders by madmen. Is this a sensible criticism of the Bible or of the Abrahamic religions? John Hinkley Junior got obsessed with Taxi Driver and then tried to assassinate a politician. Does this make Taxi Driver a bad or morally irresponsible film?

Extreme right-wing views are abhorrent, but abhorrence in a thing is not a precondition to it inspiring abhorrent behaviour. Brevik's views tell us a lot about his madness and his crimes, his madness and crimes tell us very little about his views.

For liberals and the left to wander into the trap of defining belief systems by the actions of their most vicious and deranged exponents is an ridiculous concession to the logic of a right wing who continue to provoke Islamophobia.
posted by howfar at 5:35 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no idea what led to Breivik's diagnosis, or if it's correct or not, but doesn't this article kind of dodge the issue of the schizophrenia wholesale to focus on sociopathy? Baron-Cohen's major argument against schizophrenia seems to be that the plan was calculating and that 2083 is a "linear, well-crafted tome", but when we did this earlier with I Read Odd Books didn't we hear (from somebody who read all of it) that not only was pretty much all the political stuff pasted wholesale from another blogger, the part Breivik wrote included an interview with himself in the third person and the claim that he was acting as part of the already-refounded new Knights Templar, which it appears he made up a list of cofounders for? I confess I haven't read it, but this doesn't exactly inspire confidence that Baron-Cohen has done so either.
posted by Tubalcain at 5:44 AM on December 2, 2011



This is at the heart of all discussions of crime and punishment. Crime is an anti-social behavior. In some way every criminal believes that he or she is entitled, or above or in someway not obliged to follow the laws of society.

In a small way, it's a guy smoking a joint, hurting no one. He may believe that the law is wrong and therefore he chooses to ignore it. Yet the law is there and can be repealed through government process, but our stoner friend would rather just go ahead and ignore it.

In a larger sense, a murderer may have experienced things in his or her life that creates poor reasoning, poor anger management skills or circumstances may have arranged themselves such that he or she is forced to take someone's life. Again, anti-social. No society benefits from murder.

Extrapolate these anti-social themes to politics and war, suddenly, it's not anti-social, it's a political agenda or collateral damage of war, or some other justification for the very same behaviors.

So when someone is using politics and war as an excuse for action, but the venue is not percieved as political or a warzone, then that person is said to be insane.

I'm not sure what you do with this, but I can easily see how these folks can lose their sense of society, especially if they had some kind of brain damage or their brain is deficient in some way.

You must admit, the differences are subtle.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let the psych majors split the hairs and argue over nomenclature. The guy is wrong in the head.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:54 AM on December 2, 2011


BS ruthless bunny. Equating smoking a joint to slaughtering children is the text book definition of false equivalence. Also, sociopathy is not about the violation of rules. Some of the most dangerous sociopaths use society's rules: it's about viewing people as objects to be manipulated and fundamentally lacking basic empathy for others. Rule-exploiting sociopaths and antisocial types exist as well.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:00 AM on December 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


(So, no, I must not admit the differences are subtle.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:01 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Norway we have the option of using "forvaring" which means people can be kept imprisoned for an indeterminate amount of time as long as they're deemed a big enough threat to society.

We've got that too. Only we reserve it for non-whites.
posted by Trurl at 7:28 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is usually where I point out David Neiwert's essay from 2003, "Rush, Newspeak and Facism." (PDF)

Neiwert wrote about how right-wing media pushed extremists into militia and white power groups. The wingnut media framed issues in ways that fringe groups felt empowered. This created a lot of threats from lone wolves and small conspiracies of mentally unbalanced and highly motivated people.

While Neiwert is an expert about fringe right groups in the NW US, I'm sure that the media environment in Europe is similarly saturated with propaganda that panders to fringe rightists. People like Brevik don't spring forth out of nowhere, they are products of their environment to some degree.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:45 AM on December 2, 2011


CBC suggested that he likely wouldn't plead insanity, because he felt that he was acting out a necessary act, and wanted it to be understood as such. An insanity plea undermines his own credibility, where as a charge of guilty would reinforce his worldview.

Personally, I think it's pretty obvious that anyone that guns down a youth camp is fucking insane. As long as we're certain that he can't hurt anyone else, the world can move on.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:58 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


:No society benefits from murder.
Wait, because many societies have historically 'benefitted' from murder (in recent time, a great many in the US will suggest that State Operated & Sanctioned murder "benefits" the society by those killings). If you meant no one benefits from indiscriminate lone wolf murder... yeah, true, agree, it is when murders are "organized", "socialized", tallied up and "legalized" that societies start to believe that they "Benefit" from those murders (which is where many Right Wing European political parties that are gaining ground want us to go [and arguably what the American Crusades of the Aughts did]). But if murder is taking the life of a person without their consent, and before they would have died without active intervention", than yes, many societies have gleefully cheered for mass murder. Also, benefit needs to be defined, because those mass murdering societies "believed" (and thus worked harder, produced more, and made more babies) that the murders "benefitted" them (see also:Societies practicing Ritual Human Sacrifice [where, no, those executions didn't "really" help, but if even by placebo effect, they "benefitted", unless they were to be sacrificed... so really not much different from the "deterrence" provided by Capital Punishment]).

That man feels like confirmation of what was the "counter call" to the racism, xenophobia and ignorance on display, with the full backing of Western propaganda engines during the Bush years... people would sarcastically say "white males of privilege are who ought to be profiled, and studied, and targeted", just look at all the terrorist actions by white males, particularly American White Males (yes, these comments were usually just sharply pointed political arguments and attempts to point out how radicalized mainstream "republican" rhetoric had gotten [but they were interesting nonetheless]). So I suppose on one hand, in this ruling, "wow, recognition that it is the broken *individuals* who commit crime, and not *the ideology* that they use to *justify* their sick actions".

If only the anti-imigrant folks could wake up to this; otherwise it seems like the ruling becomes part of the same decade old set of double standards where, anti-islamic mass murdering terrorist=lone wolf, nothing to see here, just this one guy, and he is a madman: and meanwhile, Islamic terrorist=CabalisticDoomsDayGlobalWarOnIslamTime. It ought to be made clear to the society either that this man was wrong, and why, or for his society to outright make his crusade part of the official policy (I don't think this is how the nation feels)... but silence on his ideology is not safe, and will only lead to copycats, and furtherance of the aims of his political wing and backers (who exist, and are classified as "Sane" people, and will continue to infiltrate national political parties).

As the 'easy' (for the Empires; not the Colonized) centuries, and decades of segregation, deeply rooted inequalities, imbalances in power, and deeply seated institutionalized racism come to a close, there will be "outrage" (see: EDL, TeaParty, and the rise of parties that sentimentalize the Nazi ideology, anti-semetic Far Right political parties have risen, and are gaining electoral success across Europe, some 'boldly' holding the banner of actual policies to drive out Muslims by force), those watching Europe have seen, and expect more and more violent outbursts, deadly tantrums, and the spread of horrifically simplistic and ignorant politicalized ideology as there is a mad dash to try and hold onto every last scrap of privilege (for example the so called 'right' to use positions of power to legislate discrimination, and to promote racially, ethnically and culturally targeted laws (towards non-white, or immigrant groups), promotion of, and justification of targeted profiling, and to target entire global communities, based on the actions of the 0.01%.

I tried to point out to any idiotic Hyper-white anti-Islamic freaks I ever interacted with that "white folks do messed up stuff too (actually, interestingly really, really, really frequently)... and unless you want to be judged for their crimes and messed up beliefs... in a world where suddenly you don't get "the benefit of the doubt", or "judged on your own merits", maybe stop justifying racial, ethnic, and cultural profiling, and discrimination". Usually the response was that such a warning implied pathetic Liberalism, possible terrorism, and simple foreignness.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:02 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


While forvaring does exist, I was under the impression it would be significantly more difficult to prove the necessary preconditions for this than insanity (it would require 'proving' a real risk of re-offending, the mechanism for which tends to assume a background of repeat offences?). No-one has been sentenced to forvaring since it was introduced in 2001.
posted by Dysk at 8:06 AM on December 2, 2011


The beauty of threads like this, for me, is all the people who chime in with their considered opinions about the sanity, or lack thereof, of someone they (1) have never met, (2) have never spoken to, (3) are without the benefit of hours of interview tapes and reading in depth the pounds of written evidence, and, (4) for the most part, aren't qualified to make a clinical judgment about, regardless.

"Oh, there's NO WAY that there serial killer can be crazy! "
"Oh, he's CLEARLY psychopathological!"

OTOH, since this is Metafilter, there's a lot of fascinating discussion of the finer points of Norwegian law... Thanks for not keeping this discussion at that lower level!
posted by IAmBroom at 9:07 AM on December 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


Look at the post-orgasmic serenity on Breivik's face in that photograph (sitting next to a cop who looks up to dismembering Breivik as effortlessly as many of us carved our Thanksgiving turkeys, no less).

I'd guess Breivik spends hours every day revisiting his own private fantasy island.

One of the crueler things a civilized society might allow itself would be to take that away from him with psychiatric drugs, and I presume that's just what will happen, now.
posted by jamjam at 9:15 AM on December 2, 2011


IAmBroom, to be fair, at least no one is basing their claims "one way or the other" on "Crazy Eyes", or "how odd he looks", or how his name stands out (as often occurs)... but rather (yes, in an incomplete manner, due to not actually knowing what the extensive psych-testing showed, and not having an appropriate tool set of terminology for "deranged ideology", as contrasted to "psychopathic thinking processes"), hinging their opinions on his own massively public writings, and presentation of his "thesis". So, it's getting better?

I agree, without any actual information of the totality of what he has said, and done, in addition to access to the results of extensive psychological testing, and examinations done on him by the actual trained medical doctors to make a determination, speculation on what is going on in his brain is not productive, harmful, speculative fictions.

It is, also, a case which lies at the tremendously fascinating intersection of "Individual persons violently transgressive anti-social action", and "Global, trans-national, violent, and wide-reaching political rhetoric, affiliations, and Party Politics Organizations". Such a finding has political implications. Rather, people will use the findings, and the punishment, and everything about this to raise political ideas... so while none of us can speak on his mental state, each and every one of us has a right, and even a duty to think on, and even take a position on, what he was saying, who he is allied with, and who shares his ideology.

Another reason for being interesting is that the ruling, and the widespread sentiment that this man should be judged on his own actions, and that his actions ought not be "extrapolated" to say "Islamophobia is based on delusional ideation", just like many have been trying to point out when people express Islamophobia, and "tie" the crimes of the few, or the individual murderers to a "culture" at large, binding "murder", to "the ideology" that inspired the murder. That particular question absolutely isn't a settled question; in any jurisdiction.

Talking about his mental state, or thinking his views are "twisted" is a byproduct to this; it seems that we do not have sufficiently parallel terminology to discuss "sick-ideas", in contrast to "sick-thinking". There are not really accurate terms that are widely known, so that people can have the "his Ideas are twisted, and based on delusional logic, but they are political, and widespread, thus nominally normative"... versus, "he has broken thinking processes, and the mechanisms of the brain are faulty, or misfiring, or chemically imbalanced".
posted by infinite intimation at 9:39 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that the panel who assessed Breivik's mental health were independent, and their conclusions, which are subject to further independent review, have come as something of a surprise. I've seen nothing to suggest that the Norwegian state is doing anything other than follow due process here; quite the reverse, the PM made their adherence to that part of his strategy. Anyone heard or read differently?
posted by Abiezer at 9:52 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Me: That's not mental illness, it's twisted ideology at work.

three blind mice: This is "enemy combatant" talk.

I think some people do horrible things because they believe horrible things, abortion clinic bombers for example. Believing horrible things is not an excuse for people who are capable of correcting their beliefs. That makes me George Bush?

I have no idea whether Breivik is mentally ill, or to what degree he is responsible for his actions. IAmBroom is right -- that's a judgment best made by psychiatrists who've interviewed him. However, I feel confident in saying that spree killing is not in itself proof of insanity. Breivik's logic is much the same as the average genocidaire; when thousands of people act together to commit mass murder we rightly blame ideology, not individual pathology. A perfectly sane person could have done what Breivik did. However...

infinite intimation: "his Ideas are twisted, and based on delusional logic, but they are political, and widespread"

That's quite plausible. Here's Fred Clark on the "death panel" myth:

"If you really believed that some kind of government Gestapo was being sent to euthanize your elderly neighbors, then opposing these forces would not be a matter of choice. It would be a moral obligation. If you really believed it. Sarah Palin, of course, did not really believe this. Nor did the vast majority of her followers. It was a lie, deliberately told — a lie that her fans and followers pretended to believe in a great game of political dishonesty...They lacked any of the urgency that must accompany genuine belief in such a horrifying thing.
...
Every few years, tragically, some poor confused bastard fails to realize that it's all a big game, a pretense, a lie. He takes them seriously and he takes their words seriously and he behaves as someone who believes what they say...and each time this happens all of the people who have, for years, been suggesting that such violent resistance is obligatory recoil in horror at the sight of someone treating their words as anything other than the disingenuous lies they were always meant to be."

Slacktivist: Only a Crazy Person Would Take What We Say Seriously
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:36 AM on December 2, 2011 [12 favorites]


I began reading the article with interest, then was severely disappointed to see the author rely on the Old Standby, the comparison with Hitler. I mean, do journalists have ANY other tricks in their bag when writing about evil?
posted by telstar at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2011


It's kind of irrelevant in cases like this. Lock the motherfucker up; throw away the key. He has gone beyond the pale. He has made himself worthless. Into the void with him.
posted by Decani at 11:29 AM on December 2, 2011


Breivik seems to have been abused as a child (Google translate).
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:44 AM on December 2


This is not an excuse, goddammit.
posted by Decani at 11:30 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've thought Breivik was delusional since I saw his "Knights Templar 2083" video. It starts out as a fairly standard racist right-wing rant, but then it veers into a bizarre fantasy land. So this doesn't surprise me.

Norway's Mass Murderer Declared Insane, May Not Go To Prison: "He committed the murders — or executions, as he calls them — for the love of his people. He characterizes himself as the most perfect knight after World War II, and that his organization — 'Knights Templar' — will take over power in Europe, and he suggests itself also as a future ruler of Norway."
posted by homunculus at 11:41 AM on December 2, 2011


This is at the heart of all discussions of crime and punishment. Crime is an anti-social behavior. In some way every criminal believes that he or she is entitled, or above or in someway not obliged to follow the laws of society.

This argument presumes natural law, and an incredibly radical version at that. It is not at all clear that laws are immanent and that therefore violation of those laws is tantamount to transgressing against human society. Civil disobedience is criminal and yet not antisocial in general, although it attacks a precept of the given society. A journalist refusing to reveal the name of their source when so ordered is criminal and yet not antisocial. I doubt there are many people who would consider violation of a despot state's oppressive law to be an inherently antisocial act or that that law necessarily arises from the base principles of human nature. Not all laws are just by right of existence.

Laws against murder are of course well-established and it's clear that murder is an antisocial act, so in that case the law and antisocial action are hand in hand. But transgression against established law in general does not indicate a level of sociopathy proportional to the contravention. Criminals are not clinically divergent or pathologically disordered simply by virtue of illegal action; no one reveals themselves existing on the spectrum of danger to society by driving 5 miles above the speed limit. What a strange argument.
posted by Errant at 12:17 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


As regards the rarity of forvaring, yes, it has hardly ever been used, but with Breivik it wouldn't even be considered until at least 2032 - 21 years from sentencing.

Norway's prison system has a very low rate of recidivism, there is a video (that I'll post later) from a semi-open island prison in Norway where we are told of a man who committed murder with a chainsaw being put to work in the island forestry - using a chainsaw. A Breivik style prisoner, one who may not respond to their rehabilitation oriented system, is one of the few I assume forvaring is intended for.
posted by knapah at 12:55 PM on December 2, 2011


Now I'm on a PC instead of a phone, here is the video I mentioned. It is from something Michael Moore has done, some kind of response to criticism of Sicko, but the prison part is really quite interesting. Relevant section starts at around 5min 26secs. The chainsaw murderer bit is at 8min 45secs.
posted by knapah at 1:19 PM on December 2, 2011


Whether or not he is sane, is Norway greatly endangered by him being (one day) free, above and beyond the danger posed by letting other violent criminals free? I believe the answer is yes, and that Norwegian people will invariably find a way to keep him locked up for the rest of his life, right or wrong.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:29 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


IIRC, Breivik didn't write those 1,518 pages all by himself but created it by collecting other people's works from the internet. It's a hate scrapbook produced by an obsessive mind.

If you want to read a real chilling terrorist document that was definitely written by a rational person, read the Unabomber's manifesto.
posted by atrazine at 1:41 PM on December 2, 2011


Sometimes I'm confused by the reaction here. Some woman goes off on a racist rant on a London bus and she is branded on the blue as mentally ill, in obvious need of therapy, taking anti-psychotics, etc. This clown goes off on a racist rant by killing 77 people and we should be skeptical about him being declared mentally ill?
Some people did. I never said that. I agree with people who thought she might be on drugs, or it could simply be a case of being really drunk in my opinion. There are lots of people who say stuff like her in private, the only difference is that she did it front of the people she doesn't like.
Even if we're prepared to take Breivik's general views as in some sense rational, the particular conclusion that the best way to move things forward was to go to this island and shoot as many people as possible seems insane to me.
Was it insane or just insanely stupid? He thought he was in a war for the survival of his culture. It wasn't an individual fever dream, but rather being in an online community of people who thought like him. In the end he did more damage to his cause, but people tend to think that 'everyone' thinks like the people they socialize with.

It's the same thing with Al Quaeda.
Look at the post-orgasmic serenity on Breivik's face in that photograph (sitting next to a cop who looks up to dismembering Breivik as effortlessly as many of us carved our Thanksgiving turkeys, no less).
Go read the threads on Amanda Knox.
posted by delmoi at 2:12 PM on December 2, 2011


Two things I've read in various articles which haven't been mentioned here:

- There is an option that would allow for Breivik to be transferred to prison from a psychiatric institution if he was deemed a) too mentally healthy for further psychiatric treatment and b) to still pose a danger to society.
- Unlike most other countries, Norway follows something called "the biological principle" rather than "the psychological principle". This means that someone cannot be punished for an action simply if they were psychotic at the time (as opposed to if the action was directly caused by the psychosis -- although this difference doesn't seem to would have mattered in this case).
posted by Bukvoed at 5:10 PM on December 2, 2011


Dogs get one serious bite. This man needs to be humanely put to sleep. There should never, EVER conceivably be any way that he could hurt another human being, and the only way to do that is by giving him the death penalty. It doesn't matter what's wrong with him; he's put himself beyond the pale..
posted by BlueHorse at 9:21 PM on December 2, 2011


We're all discussing this as if it's a given that he would re-offend if released. Personally, I don't consider that particularly likely...
posted by Dysk at 5:32 AM on December 3, 2011


Re the possibility of his having been abused as a child.....

I'm sorry, but that's a lousy excuse, no matter who uses it: yeah, it's terrible that anyone is ever abused by another, whether as a child or an adult, whether the abuse is physical, mental, emotional and/or sexual. But that does NOT mean that they are justified to go on and hurt someone else! I might give an abused person a pass if they turned around and hurt their abuser, but there is no justification whatsoever to take that rage out on an innocent person.
posted by easily confused at 9:16 AM on December 3, 2011


Cold and calculating and insane are not mutually exclusive characteristics.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:34 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why don't you think it's likely that Breivik would kill more people, Dysk? He had no trouble killing 72 kids and his plan is all about undermining the Left so that his extreme Right ideas will win by default.
posted by harriet vane at 8:44 PM on December 3, 2011


There should never, EVER conceivably be any way that he could hurt another human being

Why is it worse for him to harm a human being than for me to do so? I ask because you don't seem to consider the risk of harm the relevant factor, but rather the identity of the potential perpetrator. There is a risk, even to the best of my own knowledge, that I might end up doing horrible harm to someone. It doesn't follow (I hope!) that I should be killed.

I can understand wanting him to be killed, but I'm not sure that desire has more than a little to do with wanting to prevent harm. The urge to retribution is natural, but I think there is a tendency to rationalise it beyond what is sustainable. If we were to execute him (which I would oppose) we surely shouldn't execute him for what he might do, but rather for what he's done.
posted by howfar at 4:42 AM on December 4, 2011


Dogs get one serious bite. This man needs to be humanely put to sleep. There should never, EVER conceivably be any way that he could hurt another human being, and the only way to do that is by giving him the death penalty.

Tell you what, you run your hellish potato plantation the way *you* want. That's not the way Scandinavia rolls.
posted by atrazine at 9:52 AM on December 4, 2011


I like to think of Scandinavia rolls as sponge cakes with a delicious salty liquorice cream filling.
posted by howfar at 11:13 AM on December 4, 2011


How successful was Breivik in his mission? In the wake of his rampage, Norway pulled together and celebrated the very things Breivik was making a statement against. Why on earth would he think doing it a second time would be better?
posted by Dysk at 12:15 PM on December 4, 2011


« Older Where Libraries Went Wrong;...  |  David Foster Wallace's collect... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments